Cops Hold the Key to Freeing the Innocent…

From takepart.com:

By 

Is there common ground between law enforcement and the Innocence Project?

You bet there is! I’m standing on it, and the Innocence Project is very well aware of it.

At times, however, I’m not so sure law enforcement is aware of the common ground, or is willing to publicly acknowledge it.

I’ve come to this conclusion with more than 30 years of investigative experience, 17 years with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, four years with the Riverside County District Attorney’s office, and eight years as a private investigator, including three of my private investigator years volunteering and working with the California Innocence Project.

For the majority of my law-enforcement years, I was farmed out to the FBI, DEA, Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement, and numerous other federal, state and local agencies.

A common belief I’ve heard many times in each of these organizations, from “seasoned” law-enforcement officers and investigators, is a bizarre and tweaked version of their job description: “It is not my job to help clear or exonerate somebody” or “It’s the defense attorney who needs to come up with evidence proving that their client is innocent.”

Incredibly, this whole twisted belief that innocence is not an investigator’s concern seems to magnify itself after an individual has been convicted…even in the face of new evidence thatclearly exonerates a person.

I was fortunate in my early years of law enforcement: I had great field-training officers and law-enforcement role models who made sure I understood our true role in law enforcement.

Whenever I heard this twisted version of our job description, I was always more than willing to share what I was taught and truly believe on this topic: “Your job in an investigation is as follows: You are a fact finder and a finder of evidence. You let the facts and the evidence speak for itself and direct you to proving someone’s guilt or proving their innocence. Anything else is unacceptable. It is just as crucial to clear an individual who has been falsely accused as it is to prosecute the guilty.”

Unfortunately, now that I’m working in the private sector, I see that this work ethic is not always accepted or practiced in our justice system.

Incredibly, for some unexplained reason, this whole twisted belief that innocence is not an investigator’s concern seems to magnify itself after an individual has been convicted…even in the face of new evidence thatclearly exonerates a person.

I’m now learned what the California Innocence Project and a massive list of defense attorneys have known for years. (Please know that I say this with the clear understanding that if you asked everyone who is in prison to raise a hand if they’re innocent, the only inmates who would not raise a hand would be the two-arm amputees.)

On numerous occasions in my career, I received a phone call from credible defense attorneys and defense investigators who were calling to tell me that their investigation revealed specific evidence or new witnesses that clearly exonerated their client—and sometimes pointed to the true perpetrator. Whether it was a case I was investigating or a case another officer was investigating, I felt morally, ethically and legally obligated to follow up on this information.

Honestly, the thought of being embarrassed through cross-examination and having to explain to the judge and jury why I refused to follow up on potential exculpatory leads and evidence was always there. But that fear of embarrassment paled in comparison to the thought of convicting andimprisoning the wrong individual.

Here’s the kicker: Amazingly enough, when we would follow up on these leads, many times the credible defense attorneys and investigators would be right. We had the wrong person.

One of the best examples I have ever seen of law enforcement, the justice system and the Innocence Project working together on common ground is in the exoneration of Brian Banks.

In a perfect world, this is the way it should always work. Information from credible defense attorneys and investigators is provided to the District Attorney’s office. The two sides meet and thoroughly examine the value and the meaning of the new evidence. If and when both sides agree that an innocent person has been prosecuted and incarcerated, the process is expedited in fully exonerating the innocent individual. Anything else is unacceptable.

I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of working alongside the California Innocence Project (CIP) and vetting them from within. This is a verycredible organization with very credible attorneys. CIP attorneys Justin Brooks, Alissa Bjerkhoel and Michael Semanchik are some of the most talented and experienced attorneys I have ever come across in my career. Any legal firm would be lucky to have them.

Here’s what amazes me about the attorneys I’ve met working for CIP: They could command top salaries at their pick of law firms, but because of what they believe, combined with what they have personally witnessed and experienced in their work at CIP, they stay and fight the good fight.

Their motivation is simple…it’s simply the right thing to do.

I respectfully ask all my law-enforcement colleagues and friends to look for the common ground and stand on it.

If needed, keep your motivation as simple as possible…. It’s simply the right thing to do.

4 responses to “Cops Hold the Key to Freeing the Innocent…

  1. Great article! Yes, its starts with the police. When they write their police report they have put a person’s life at risk for destruction along with their children, family and career.

  2. True workin together for justice. Agreed it starts with police and deputies. Many of them do not have real world experience, and lack clear thinking ability. So they form judgement based on their worldview, rather than sticking to facts as the article mentions. So then checks and balances are needed by the next level up, rather than to accept the officers judgement which just gets accepted as fact as it moves up to court.

    A problem that may arise by working together is that tendency to go along to get along. People tend to agree and go along with others only to cooperate, and reduce that human emotion which leads to conflict by coworkers. I dont want to step on any toes thinking. Especially when men must work with women. To avoid that dilema a man must always go along with what the woman states as fact or it becomes wwIII.

    Its amazing to read the discrepencies in police reports from different officers reporting on the same incident. Thus it is clear that most have differing views of the same incident, and clear they are not reporting the facts but rather their perception of what has happened, or their view of what they want others to think had happened.

    • “A common belief I’ve heard many times in each of these organizations, from “seasoned” law-enforcement officers and investigators, is a bizarre and tweaked version of their job description: “It is not my job to help clear or exonerate somebody” or “It’s the defense attorney who needs to come up with evidence proving that their client is innocent.”

      And for the defendant who has poor counsel because they cannot afford good defense and relies on court appointed defense, and/or the attorney holds unseen bias against defendants views lead up to a guaratee of wrongful conviction. So yes the officers need to assume that it is their job to provide evidence that can prove evidence of innocence as well as guilt. Secondly the defense relies on facts gathered by the investigators, they dont investigate crime scenes because by that time it is too late. All must aasume the role of seeking justice, which is Innocence as well as guilt.

      How would they feel if it was they who were the defendant, or one of their loved ones?

    • Another problem in justice is going against a traditionally held belief, or myth, or going against the thoughts of those in more powerful positions. In these cases officers, and most people in general go along to get along to avoid conflicts which may punish that person going against the main stream.

      Justice in todays court is not who is right or wrong but, who has the power. Until true freedom is allowed in this country I dont think true justice will ever prevail.

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