I was recently made aware of a quote from the ancient Greek playwright, Euripides. “Ours is a universe in which justice is accidental, and innocence no protection.” I often feel like this describes our current justice system exactly, but it’s not supposed to be that way, and it doesn’t HAVE to be that way. As with any system established and run by “humans,” the justice system, including those who run it, is exposed to the entire gamut of human frailties – pride, ego, ambition, greed, envy, passion, deceit, prejudice, hate, intolerance, power, influence, and on and on. The situation hasn’t really changed since ancient Greece, and I don’t see the nature of humanity changing radically any time in the next few thousand years, but there are things that can be done to at least mitigate the effect of these human shortcomings on the justice system. This post will be comprehensive and quite long – so, buckle up, and here we go. I hope that those of you who have the patience to read through to the end may find it interesting, enlightening, and hopefully thought provoking.
As you might guess from the title, this post will be “editorial” in nature. I’ve been doing innocence work for five years now, and have worked with seven different Innocence Projects from across the US and one foreign country. Over that time, I’ve been exposed to the fine details of over 40 different cases. These are all post-conviction cases in which there is a belief by the associated Innocence Project in the actual innocence of the defendant, and thus belief of a “wrongful conviction” on the part of the justice system. In addition, my research in these cases has exposed me to many other additional cases in which a wrongful conviction occurred. Consequently, I’ve seen a lot of the things that can go wrong in the justice system, and have been able to make judgments about how they happen. This post will coalesce my observations into statements about why I think the US justice system is broken. I’m going to be painting a pretty dark picture, so keep in mind that my exposure has been to cases in which the justice system failed, but there are lots of them. There really isn’t any substantiated data for how many wrongful convictions occur in the US every year, but recent data says it’s between 5,000 and 10,000 per year. One is too many. At the end of the post, we’ll talk about why it’s not getting fixed.
I’m not an attorney, and some may accuse me of being a naive, optimistic idealist (which I am) or of tracking muddy footprints through the hallowed halls of justice; but I am only reporting what I have observed. And if you think I’m making some of this stuff up, I strongly recommend you read the book False Justice: Eight Myths That Convict the Innocent by Jim and Nancy Petro. (It’s available from amazon.com for $16.) Jim is a former Attorney General for the state of Ohio, and Nancy, in addition to being an author and advocate, is also a contributing editor to this blog. Now, are there good and dedicated prosecutors and police out there who are absolutely committed to seeing that true justice is served? Of course. Are there qualified and capable attorneys who will do their utmost on behalf of their clients? Of course. Unfortunately, there are also “others.”
All that being said ……..
Why I Think the US Justice System is Broken
(As a preview, we’ll touch upon Bad Lawyers, Prosecutors, Judges, Police, Juries, Junk Science Forensics, False Confessions, Shoddy Work by Medical Examiners, Testimony from Experts Who Aren’t Really Experts, Finality of Judgement, Highly Restrictive Rules for New Evidence, Eyewitness Identification, and Recantations.)