Justice or Just Us

A record 149 people were exonerated in 2015 bringing the total to 1730 exonerated since 1989.

I came across this article last week, and I think it’s something that should be front and center for this presidential election campaign season.  Unfortunately, it’s not.

Exonerations hit record in U.S. as wrongful convictions become a ‘regular’ problem via Yahoo News Digest

https://www.yahoo.com/digest/20160203/exonerations-hit-record-wrongful-convictions-become-regular-problem-00106496

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I know the justice system isn’t perfect, and it hasn’t been applied perfectly in the past.  Sometimes, I wonder if these “few” exonerations are simply just the ones that are easy to prove.  No innocent person should be forced to serve time for a crime they didn’t commit.  At the same time, a guilty person shouldn’t be free to roam the streets.

I’ve long thought that the justice system is not the arbiter of innocence or guilt.  It’s simply the arbiter of who can best prove their case.  There are times when it’s quite easy to prove innocence in today’s time.  You can use DNA, video evidence, or other things to prove a person didn’t commit a crime.  Things were not always that easy.  Those things that can prove innocence can also easily prove guilt.

I’m sure people wonder why minorities have distrust for law enforcement and the legal system, and when you can average exonerating a person every 2.5 days within a year, it’s not hard to understand.  It’s not just minorities that get screwed over by the system either.  If you can’t afford a good lawyer, your chances are not going to be good of defending yourself in court.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re Black or White when you don’t have the green to help your case.

The “Making a Murderer” documentary has put this back in the spotlight for a minute.  I haven’t followed the case of Steven Avery or watched the documentary, but I see nothing wrong with reviewing cases where there may be evidence to prove someone’s innocence.  Given that some of the exonerated from last year were on death row, it may be a lifesaver to some people if their cases are reviewed.

The one thing I would like to see happen on top of the exonerations is a review of those responsible for locking up innocent people.  If it’s found that the prosecutors, or even law enforcement, have broken the law or knowingly set up a person they knew was innocent, they should have to face some type of review of their work themselves.  If they have a pattern of abuse like that, then they should face the repercussions of their actions and be punished accordingly.

The veracity of our justice system depends on the honesty and integrity of the entire process.  If the honesty and integrity is in question, then so is the system of justice.  Without the honesty and integrity, there is no justice.

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9 thoughts on “Justice or Just Us

  1. This is exactly why, quite a few years ago now, I changed my attitude towards the death penalty. I would agree that some guilty people deserve to die…but, to me, the chances of executing an innocent person are just too great. Better that a fiend should live out life in prison than that an innocent person should die in error.

    Yes, it would be ideal if no innocent person was ever convicted, but we are not infallible gods, and errors will happen. At least, if the person is in prison and alive, we can rectify that error to the best of our ability. We cannot bring someone back to life though, if they have been executed in error.

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    • I’m beginning to see my view on the death penalty follow that same trajectory. It seems to me that the justice system is tilted in opposition to people from lower socioeconomic classes more than anything else. We claim that justice is blind, but nobody mentions that it’s handicapped as well because you’re less likely to get adequate representation if you don’t have the means to pay for it. A person’s freedom or even their life should be worthy of having a decent defense to keep the legal system honest, if nothing else.

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      • Yes, the cost of defense it a big problem. And it’s hard to see how to improve it. There are always going to be lawyers that put in more work for better paying clients. Just off-hand, the only thing I can think of is a requirement that ALL lawyers have to defend a given number of poor clients per year to keep their license. But what that number should be is hard to pin down.

        it’s pretty obvious to me that a really high level lawyer could afford to take on more poor clients than could a less successful one, but how you would work out a fair number is not immediately obvious.

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  2. Back to the topic: the death penalty is the very definition of “cruel and unusual,” not to mention that it is also far more expensive to kill than to incarcerate for life.

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