Innocent People Convicted, But Officials Stayed Silent?
I got a fair amount of blowback on twitter the other night for retweeting Ta-Nehisi Coates' observation that it was good to see skepticism of prosecutors in the wake of the Zimmerman arrest, but that he wished it would happen all the time. Twitter is a very imperfect medium, so people may have misunderstood the point, which is that skepticism of prosecutors is always a good idea. It doesn't mean they are all corrupt or inept (or that George Zimmerman shouldn't be punished) it's simply that they have great power over individual's lives and the law requires them to prove their case. Unfortunately, they sometimes takes shortcuts. And when they do it, lives are ruined and sometimes lost because of it:
Justice Department officials have known for years that flawed forensic work might have led to the convictions of potentially innocent people, but prosecutors failed to notify defendants or their attorneys even in many cases they knew were troubled.
Officials started reviewing the cases in the 1990s after reports that sloppy work by examiners at the FBI lab was producing unreliable forensic evidence in court trials. Instead of releasing those findings, they made them available only to the prosecutors in the affected cases, according to documents and interviews with dozens of officials.
In addition, the Justice Department reviewed only a limited number of cases and focused on the work of one scientist at the FBI lab, despite warnings that problems were far more widespread and could affect potentially thousands of cases in federal, state and local courts.
As a result, hundreds of defendants nationwide remain in prison or on parole for crimes that might merit exoneration, a retrial or a retesting of evidence using DNA because FBI hair and fiber experts may have misidentified them as suspects.
In one Texas case, Benjamin Herbert Boyle was executed in 1997, more than a year after the Justice Department began its review. Boyle would not have been eligible for the death penalty without the FBI’s flawed work, according to a prosecutor’s memo.
Read the whole thing. It's an absolute horror story. And the problem isn't isolated to a few errant DA offices. It's systemic. As is the cover-up.
Even if you don't agree with me that capital punishment is immoral, I can't understand how anyone could think a system with these flaws can be entrusted with it. Aside from the obvious possibility of human error you have a system in which it's imperative that prosecutors, unlike defense attorneys, serve two clients --- the people and justice. Far too often they forget the second one.