FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

When Prosecutors are Dead Wrong

by ELAINE CASSEL

Recently I exchanged emails with CounterPuncher Bruce Jackson, SUNY Distinguished Professor and Samuel P. Capen Professor of American Culture at SUNY Buffalo and editor of The Buffalo Report. We were communicating about the use of narrative in court trials. I shared with him my belief that the prosecution and the defense put forth the best “story,” or version of the facts, that will convince a jury either to convict or acquit. Sometimes the “right” story wins–and justice is done. Just as often, I believe, the “wrong” story prevails, and innocent people are convicted.

Given this adversarial system that puts the lawyers in charge of the evidence that the jury hears, it is no surprise that guilty people are acquitted and innocent people convicted. The availability of sophisticated DNA tests had been expected to bring factual accuracy to criminal trials. DNA tests, in some cases, can rule out a suspect as the perpetrator. But, ironically, DNA testing, which has led to the release of scores of people from prison, even death row, is becoming a victim of its own success. Prosecutors are sick of releasing people based on DNA tests that tend to exonerate them.

So what are they doing? As reported in an editorial in The New York Times, they are doing whatever they can to keep those exonerated in prison or retry them without the DNA evidence. Ignorantly, some prosecutors point to eyewitnesses who can “swear” they saw the victim “do it,” this in spite of extensive research about eyewitnesses testimony that shows it to be among the least reliable of courtroom evidence. The Department of Justice even went so far as to write guidelines for the use of eyewitnesses evidence, which, if adhered to, would reduce the number of falsely accused and convicted persons.

These guidelines are not, sad to say, mandatory. And prosecutors loathe to free an innocent person will scour around for someone willing to swear they saw the accused “do it.”

Some states make prosecutors’ jobs easy by having an extremely limited time period within which a convict can bring up evidence of innocence. Virginia has a 21-day rule that guarantees that no one can have his day in court to present new exculpatory evidence. Such evidence is often not available for years. Convicts have no access to physical evidence used against them; few have the money to afford legal counsel and the DNA tests themselves.

If the 4th (unreasonable searches and seizures), 5th (due process of law), 8th (prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment) and 14th (equal protection of the laws) amendments to the Constitution mean anything, they mean that our system ought to do anything within its power to keep innocent people from being found “guilty” and locked away or executed.

It is a disgraceful state of affairs when prosecutors vow to do all they can to keep innocent people behind bars. When they prefer convictions to justice, and finality–even if dead wrong–to truth.

 

More articles by:
February 20, 2018
Nick Pemberton
The Gun Violence the Media Shows Us and the State Violence They Don’t
John Eskow
Sympathy for the Drivel: On the Vocabulary of President Nitwit
John Steppling
Trump, Putin, and Nikolas Cruz Walk Into a Bar…
John W. Whitehead
America’s Cult of Violence Turns Deadly
Ishmael Reed
Charles F. Harris: He Popularized Black History
Will Podmore
Paying the Price: the TUC and Brexit
George Burchett
Plumpes Denken: Crude thinking
Binoy Kampmark
The Caring Profession: Peacekeeping, Blue Helmets and Sexual Abuse
Lawrence Wittner
The Trump Administration’s War on Workers
David Swanson
The Question of Sanctions: South Africa and Palestine
Walter Clemens
Murderers in High Places
Dean Baker
How Does the Washington Post Know that Trump’s Plan Really “Aims” to Pump $1.5 Trillion Into Infrastructure Projects?
February 19, 2018
Rob Urie
Mueller, Russia and Oil Politics
Richard Moser
Mueller the Politician
Robert Hunziker
There Is No Time Left
Nino Pagliccia
Venezuela Decides to Hold Presidential Elections, the Opposition Chooses to Boycott Democracy
Daniel Warner
Parkland Florida: Revisiting Michael Fields
Sheldon Richman
‘Peace Through Strength’ is a Racket
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Taking on the Pentagon
Patrick Cockburn
People Care More About the OXFAM Scandal Than the Cholera Epidemic
Ted Rall
On Gun Violence and Control, a Political Gordian Knot
Binoy Kampmark
Making Mugs of Voters: Mueller’s Russia Indictments
Dave Lindorff
Mass Killers Abetted by Nutjobs
Myles Hoenig
A Response to David Axelrod
Colin Todhunter
The Royal Society and the GMO-Agrochemical Sector
Cesar Chelala
A Student’s Message to Politicians about the Florida Massacre
Weekend Edition
February 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
American Carnage
Paul Street
Michael Wolff, Class Rule, and the Madness of King Don
Andrew Levine
Had Hillary Won: What Now?
David Rosen
Donald Trump’s Pathetic Sex Life
Susan Roberts
Are Modern Cities Sustainable?
Joyce Nelson
Canada vs. Venezuela: Have the Koch Brothers Captured Canada’s Left?
Geoff Dutton
America Loves Islamic Terrorists (Abroad): ISIS as Proxy US Mercenaries
Mike Whitney
The Obnoxious Pence Shows Why Korea Must End US Occupation
Joseph Natoli
In the Post-Truth Classroom
John Eskow
One More Slaughter, One More Piece of Evidence: Racism is a Terminal Mental Disease
John W. Whitehead
War Spending Will Bankrupt America
Robert Fantina
Guns, Violence and the United States
Dave Lindorff
Trump’s Latest Insulting Proposal: Converting SNAP into a Canned Goods Distribution Program
Robert Hunziker
Global Warming Zaps Oxygen
John Laforge
$1.74 Trillion for H-bomb Profiteers and “Fake” Cleanups
CJ Hopkins
The War on Dissent: the Specter of Divisiveness
Peter A. Coclanis
Chipotle Bell
Anders Sandström – Joona-Hermanni Mäkinen
Ways Forward for the Left
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Winning Hearts and Minds
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail