Three Related Stories

With connections to problems in the criminal justice system, and specifically wrongful convictions.

First we have the New York Times reporting on Brooklyn’s “Conviction Review Unit”, which now has funding and 10 assistant district attorneys and a Harvard law professor consultant.  They are trying to figure out who that office has wrongfully convicted over the last, oh, 30 years.

Good for them.

Then, in what is really a bombshell news story that should be leading every major outlet, as they used to say, we learn from the very same New York Times that the very same Brooklyn District Attorney’s office was allegedly mired in some pretty heavy corruption reaching right to the top, both to the formerly widely respected and elected DA Charlie Hynes and to widely respected judges like Barry Kamins.

So, let’s get this straight:  the same office that succumbed to high level corruption reaching into the very judiciary it supposedly pleaded before, and that must have secured the wrongful convictions in the first place, is going to lead the effort to police itself and right its wrongs.  What, no one has ever heard of the fox guarding the henhouse?

But what bothers me so much more about the perspective on display in these articles is the vanishing criminal defense bar.  It would seem that the natural people to review criminal convictions to determine whether or not they were wrongful would be criminal defense lawyers, but the task has fallen to prosecuting attorneys and consulting law professors. 

Maybe they’ll do a good job, but I seem to remember the New York Attorney General set up some sort of conviction integrity unit a couple of years back that hasn’t been heard from since.  Although they do “meet regularly” under their “new chief”, who used to be a prosecutor of course.

But then there is this:

And criminal defense lawyers do not “desire justice.” We desire to win our client’s cause. That, and nothing else, is our highest calling. I would have thought you would know this by now.

A familiar refrain from the criminal defense bar.  Not a universally held belief, but widely held enough that no one is going to trust them to distinguish between wrongful convictions and just ones.  The latter being, to them, a theoretical as well as a practical impossibility, like an oxymoron.

Truth is, the criminal defense lawyer’s “calling” is a lot more nuanced than that.  Can a criminal defense lawyer incite or aid and abet prosecutorial misconduct in order to “win” his client’s cause?  There are many scenarios I can think of where this could be done. 

I think the answer is no.  Obviously.

What Greenfield and other CDL’s do is transplant the simple and unambiguous rule at the trial itself – that you do everything within the rules to win – to every aspect of representing a criminal defendant, including plea negotiations with prosecutors.

If a prosecutor can’t trust that a CDL won’t mislead him – or worse – that will affect not just plea negotiations with one CDL but with every CDL, and every CDL’s clients. 

It’s the CDL destructive contribution to systemic dysfunction, and it’s every bit as stubbornly adhered to by some as the exonerations from obviously wrongful convictions are resisted by prosecutors and attorneys general.

There’s something very out of whack when there’s a national awakening about wrongful convictions and independent criminal defense lawyers are conspicuously absent from the discussions.  To some extent it is a self-inflicted wound.  Ugh.


1 Comment

Filed under Media incompetence/bias, wrongful convictions

One response to “Three Related Stories

  1. HonestAbe

    Sadly, I have little hope for our judicial and political systems. After decades of pointing the finger at the widespread corruption and incompetence of the former Soviet Union, we have proved to be just as inept.


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