When I left off in my last blog, I was making the point that more people were apt to disagree with the old adage that it is better to let 100 people guilty people go free than to send 1 innocent man to prison. It is, by the way, one of the beliefs which serves as the foundation of our criminal justice system, of course. However, I would imagine that many folks would argue that such beliefs made more sense hundreds of years ago and that such ideas are out of touch with the realities with which we live today.
Given what I do for a living, you may not be too shocked to hear that I still agree with the old adage.
I think I would be more willing to give law enforcement, including prosecutors, the benefit of the doubt more if the system were truly what it says it is.
Things like Melissa’s Bill, which mandate no parole for certain repeat violent offenders, are founded upon what the system pretends to be….but isn’t.
I would imagine that even the most ardent supporter of such legislation would think twice about supporting the new law if it were a given that police officers often lie and can be quite blind in their investigations,, prosecutors are advocates for their boss’ political careers and that the presumption of innocence has basically been replaced with an assumption of guilt. After all, I would like to think that while we may be bloodthirsty when it comes to criminal defendants….we like to assume that we have the right person behind bars.
Both as a prosecutor and a defense attorney I have folks allege that corruption rules the criminal justice system. I have heard suggestions of paid off jurors, judges and prosecutors not to mention defense attorneys who sell their client down the river for extra favors in other cases. I must tell you that, after a quarter century in the criminal justice system, I have not witnessed any of that.
What I have seen, however, is arguably just as bad.
Attorney Sam’s Take On “Solutions” Like Melissa’s Bill (Take Two)
“Sam, you are always decrying the ‘poor defendant’. In all your years in the system, have you never seen a grieving family or friend who lost someone to crime?”
I sure have and they have my sympathy. It is a horrible thing and I am sure that the pain is beyond measure. However, I tend to doubt that such victims seek retribution on….well….anybody who happens to be accused. I would bet they want it to be the right somebody.
However, given how many investigations and prosecutions proceed, one really has to wonder how much care and thought went in to making sure that the “right somebody” is the one being prosecuted.
By the way, I have also seen grief and pain on the other side of the coin too. I refer to the look on someone’s face when they or a loved one is looking at spending many, many years in state prison for something they did not do. Of course, nobody, other than me, in the courtroom are seriously about to allow for that possibility. And so I watch, and fight, as the system treats them like just another cog in the wheel. Another game of pretending there might be innocence here until we can just lock them up and get it over with.
“You act as if no one is ever found not guilty.”
Oh, I have been fortunate enough to experience many acquittals of clients. The only problem is that, despite the verdict, their lives are often ruined. They are broke. They have lost their jobs. Some have lost their families after spending a year or so in custody insisting on their innocence. As far as the system is concerned, however, that is not a problem. As long as the defendant is not found guilty, then it is “no harm, no foul”.
But that is the pain most of us would prefer to ignore.
So long as we have a system increasingly controlled by the more bloodthirsty among us and we perpetuate the above descriptions, I cannot help but wince at the various “solutions” said folks come up with…even when fueled by justifiable anger.
Things like slamming the cell door shut, never to be revisited make me uncomfortable therefore. Perhaps if I could really believe that the presumption of innocence had been honored and that the right to that presumption was carefully considered I would be more comfortable with it.
Many, however, are the instances wherein the court, police or prosecution demonstrate once again that my fears are correct.
An example? How about, after someone has served years for a murder which the defendant still denies guilt and it is suddenly discovered that there exists DNA which can be tested to make sure that he actually is the guilty party? How about the fact that, routinely, prosecutors who depend on that very evidence nowadays to convict people suddenly doubt such evidence and so fight vehemently against any attempt to test the DNA which the defendant claims will now exonerate him?
The day you can convince me that that makes sense and is in the interests of Justice may be the day I can relax alittle about dogmatic kneejerk reactions to crime and punishment.
Of course, there are also other reasons which argue against Melissa’s Bill. Perhaps another day and another blog.