Perplexing

I follow developments in the justice system pretty closely.  At least I think so.  Certainly more than the average person, if only for the reason that it’s my bailiwick.

So how come this is the first first news I’ve heard or seen about this legislative effort?

Too late to do anything about it now, at least until the legislature reconvenes – which ordinarily is not something to look forward to, by the way.  Seems even the Innocence Project only got the memo a few weeks ago.

And so on.  Wrongful convictions, doncha know.

The lobby for the wrongfully convicted isn’t very organized, or effective.  Or funded.  That is, if it even exists.

Take a read about it, though.  This is a “reform” effort, and I don’t doubt that the proposals being considered – things like requiring full recording of suspect interviews and double-blind line-ups – would do some good.  But it’s not really even scratching the surface.  Not by a long shot.

At the risk of being accused of self absorption*, I have to nevertheless point out that if somebody wants to figure out why things too often go so horribly awry in the criminal justice system they need to make a full study of this case.  It had nothing to do with faulty eyewitness identifications or false confessions.  It wasn’t a “mistake”:  no one even remotely familiar with the evidence could possibly have believed in the accused’s guilt.  There is something much deeper – and much worse – that must account for it.

Close as I am to the whole thing, and knowledgeable about both the case and the relevant law as I am, I’m not sure even I could describe it too well to anyone, although I have this feeling I know what it is.  But it’s more like seeing through a glass darkly, I guess.

You have to keep your sense of humor.  In any case, consider this tidbit from Gary Craig’s article:

In response to questions, representatives of the District Attorney’s Association referred to a June 21 letter from Association President Cyrus Vance Jr., the New York County DA, to legislative leaders.

The letter notes that Cuomo’s proposals are the offspring of the New York State Justice Task Force, created by Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman largely to tackle the issue of wrongful convictions. The District Attorney’s Association backed those proposals for double-blind photo arrays and videotaped interrogations, Vance wrote.

However, he noted, neither the task force nor the District Attorney’s Association agree with mandated double-blind physical lineups. There was police opposition to the proposal, especially in New York City, where physical lineups are commonplace.

“There was police opposition.”  Well, there ya go.  Somehow “Innocence Project Support” and “Police Opposition” don’t cancel each other out.

This is a lot closer to the nub of the problem.

Notice, too, that the relevant “officials” involved in the official conversation in officialdom about all this are….District Attorneys and their “association”, cops and their “association”; and judges and their “commissions”.  The criminal defense bar is evidently too irrelevant to even be consulted, or for that matter even quoted in a news story about wrongful convictions.

This, too, is much closer to the nub of the problem.

Then of course you have the governor, yet another profile in political and moral courage:

“The governor would love to have this happen but he also wants all the interested stakeholders to come to an agreement,” he said.

See, if all the “interested stakeholders” come to an agreement the governor doesn’t have to risk anything by signing on.

And this is the official dithering that takes place in officialdom in the face of the otherwise distressing fact that New York is among the top three states in committing wrongful convictions, in a country where wrongful convictions are finally being recognized as a serious problem.  I say “otherwise” distressing because although normal people do find it quite distressing apparently it isn’t distressing enough to legislators and political “leaders” to so much as lift a finger over it.

And this, I think, is getting really close to the nub of the problem.

If you have rulers who would rather preside over a state that frequently and  willfully brands innocent people criminals, incarcerates them and figuratively – and sometimes literally – murders them, than make any effort to correct that behavior because it might cost them the tiniest pittance of political discomfort, then why would anyone be surprised that the state is number three in wrongful convictions?  The only surprise is that the state is not number one.

But don’t worry, we’ll get there.

The wrongful convictions, the systemic corruption in Albany, the radiant and glittering barbarism and lawlessness of Wall Street – it’s all of a piece, isn’t it?

It might help – a little – to tape police interrogations and put a safeguard or two into police lineup procedures.  But without some basic adherence to virtue among those holding the reins of power it will be just so much tinkering.

And that, I feel certain, is really really close to the nub of the problem

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* We here at Lawyers on Strike are convinced of our own nearly perfect objectivity in this and many other matters, but understand that for others, and for various reasons, the idea of objectivity itself is an impossibility and thus all human conduct is at bottom explained only by self-interest (or other pathologies) and of course at that point any seemingly disproportionate conduct or emphasis by any person on anything within that person’s experience becomes susceptible of the accusation that such a person is “self-absorbed”.

Therefore, in this instance the “self-absorbed” accusation is essentially the product of circular reasoning, not to mention that if the denial of objective truth behind the accusation is inaccurate the accusation is also highly unjust and potentially destructive.

We make this point only for the sake of accuracy and truth, of course, which we are able to do because we do not regard such things as myths on the order of unicorns and fairies, though of course we also recognize, being objective, that for many others these are impossibilities and their consequent accusations are always, in the end, unanswerable.

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3 Comments

Filed under financial crisis, Judicial lying/cheating, Media incompetence/bias, wrongful convictions

3 responses to “Perplexing

  1. HonestAbe

    This is probably one of the best quotes I have seen, even of it was delivered on a network that is probably the champion of media bias and propaganda: “Anyone who thinks that this trial or any trial is about the truth is either naive or intellectually dishonest. Trials are not about the truth. The defense’s obligation is to acquit the defendant. The prosecution must prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.” – attorney Mark Eiglarsh via http://www.hlntv.com/article/2013/07/10/atty-trials-are-not-about-truth

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    • Actually, Abe, I have to disagree here. Trials are about the truth. And at the risk of being overly nuanced, I would have to say that it’s not quite right that the defense’s obligation is to acquit the defendant. It is the defense’s proper objective to acquit the defendant. And while it is true that the prosecution must prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt to win, it is not either his proper objective or his obligation to win, but rather to do justice.

      In other words, the defense must try for an acquittal even if the defendant is guilty; but the prosecution can never seek a conviction if the defendant is innocent. This may appear to be incongruous, but it isn’t: both are officers of the court and must protect the court’s integrity. The court’s integrity is not undermined by a ‘wrongful acquittal’ but it is undermined by a wrongful conviction.

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      • HonestAbe

        I actually agree with you wholeheartedly in terms of what the goal should be but I think many others have lost sight of this most noble cause you describe – protect the court’s integrity. Juan Martinez’s handling of the witnesses for the defense may be a good example whereby he attacked and intimidated those who took the stand in an effort to win a case, not to find the truth or do justice. In fact, I recall reading where he basically blackmailed one witness for the defense. Look at the liberties he took with gas cans and a dead cell phone battery. Most recently, we have the George Zimmerman case where the prosecutors are now attacking the verdict. In fact, Angela Corey referred to Zimmerman as a murderer and this was after the verdict. To top it off, she did it on nationwide TV. How’s that for integrity? What an insult to the jury and the system in general. Who will want to serve on a criminal case when one has to basically enter the witness protection program if the verdict, even when based on jury instructions, doesn’t support the views and opinions of a major network.

        I can tell that you take pride in the legal profession and take the responsibility seriously but I don’t think people such as Martinez, Corey, Guy, Maneti, and de la Rionda share the same values. At least they haven’t demonstrated it and unfortunately there are a lot of impressionable law students who will deem their behavior as the norm. Fortunately, Mark O’Mara is setting a better example. Though I certainly don’t agree with a lot of the verdicts in many of the cases I have followed, I would have the common sense to not get on TV and criticize a jury who probably came back with the correct verdict. Maybe they ought to be petitioning for changes in the “stand your ground” approach rather than admonishing a jury who did their best with what was presented. Maybe it’s also time to remove cameras from the courtroom so people can live their lives based on the verdict instead of the bias of HLN hosts.

        I would not be surprised to see the stand your ground laws overthrown after this case which may not be a bad thing. I also still think that the court system needs to rework the “beyond reasonable doubt” instruction. Until then, I am concerned that we’ll have more innocent people sentenced or worse, more people killed over what could be as little as a misunderstanding or an unfortunate set of circumstances. I’m not certain where we went wrong but someone needs to pick up the torch and run with it before more lives are ruined or lost.

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