Archive for the ‘legal professions’ Tag

more examples of the American injustice system

Radley Balko and Roger Kopple have an excellent article on the use of science in the courtroom, and how the current system biases supposedly scientific results toward conviction.  They make five suggestions for correcting the situation.

In 2007, Balko published an article about expert testimony gone very wrong:

During the last two decades, there have been more than a dozen high-profile cases in which dubious forensic witnesses conned state and federal courts, sometimes for many years and in hundreds of cases. The most famous example is probably the West Virginia crime lab worker Fred Zain, who from 1979 to 1989 tainted so many trials with false testimony about blood, semen, and hair evidence that the state’s Supreme Court ordered a review of every case in which he’d ever testified. It turned out he had introduced deliberately falsified evidence in at least 134 cases.

However, he really profiles one Steven Hayne, who from this article seems utterly unqualified to do forensic medicine and yet has provided expert testimony that has sent many to prison and possibly some to death row.

According to NAME [National Association of Medical Examiners], a single medical examiner should perform no more than 250 autopsies per year. At 325, the group considers a doctor to have a “Phase II deficiency”; at that point, it will not accredit a practice, regardless of any other criteria.

Hayne has repeatedly testified under oath that he performs more than 1,500 autopsies per year—a staggering number that dwarfs even the output of the prolific Dr. Erdmann. That’s more than four per day, every day of the year, for the 20 years Hayne’s been in Mississippi. In a 2002 deposition, Hayne put the estimate at 1,800.

The article doesn’t get any better from there.

Here’s an Orange County travesty:

Veteran forensic specialist Danielle G. Wieland made the charge last month during a civil deposition related to the December 2005 wrongful conviction and imprisonment of James Ochoa, according to documents obtained by the Weekly.

The allegation is just the latest in a series of sensationally callous screw-ups by law enforcement—police, prosecutors and judges—that aligned to raid Ochoa’s house, arrest him and steal his freedom. He spent 16 months in the Orange County Jail and a California prison. Later, DNA evidence fingered the real bandit, a career criminal in Los Angeles.

The Ochoa travesty didn’t happen merely because the Orange County district attorney’s office repeatedly ignored exculpatory facts. According to Wieland’s testimony, they actively sought to convict Ochoa as mounting evidence pointed to his innocence.

More from Orange County on fake evidence presented by prosecutors.

This is just a few minutes searching.  It’s not getting better.

###

Cf. American Injustice System, Collection of related links

American (In)Justice System

My main contention is that the American justice system has become a form of tyranny.

This post could easily become a long, long essay, so I will simply outline my argument. Future posts will deal with some specifics, including a few ideas for how to repair the system. I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV, so I fully recognize some of my arguments may be naive; I post this as a challenge, as an example of the frustrations of an American citizen, and welcome anyone more knowledgeable to correct me if I am wrong.

1. The system exacts a toll from every citizen, not for their good, but for the good of legal professionals (lawyers, judges, police of various kinds, etc.). No matter who else wins or loses, the legal professions always win, always gain power, always gain wealth. The fear of the legal system itself works in favor of the legal professions and hurts everyone else. This seems to me a form of extortion. Legal professionals themselves are often immune from prosecution, either by law or by practice.

2. The system is essentially impossible to change from within. Within the federal government there is a separation of powers between the judicial, legislative, and executive. However, the legal profession has subverted this separation. Two of the three branches are controlled by members of one social group: lawyers. These individuals cannot be counted on to change a system they’ve been indoctrinated in, that has provided them with prestige and wealth, and that continues to affirm their career decisions. We recognize this in other cases: We would not let any other group police itself, but rather the legal professions police all other groups, and themselves. There are times, e.g. during the Clinton administration, when lawyers control all three branches of government. Repeatedly we see that legal judgments never go against the legal profession. In order to make changes, it would be necessary to appeal to legal professionals to change their own profitable, prestigious system. I consider it essentially impossible.

3. The law itself is often contradictory and therefore essentially arbitrary. There is no difference between a tyrant who rules by whim and a massive system of contradictory laws that are impossible to wholly understand. For that matter, there is no difference between an arbitrary tyrant and a single law that the person it applies to cannot understand. Legalese is the enemy of the average citizen in a very real, and sometimes lethal, way. The power of judges is likewise arbitrary; every judge is a tyrant in his or her own courtroom, some benign, some not. In the case of truly tyrannical judges, the press and lawyers are well-advised not to publicize this fact if they may end up in that judge’s courtroom in any capacity whatsoever.

Example 1: I know of a case in which an elderly woman was ordered to appear before a judge at a certain time. She arrived in plenty of time, but mistook the courtroom and went to the wrong one. Realizing her mistake, she found the right courtroom and entered a few minutes late. The judge ruled her in contempt of court and she spent the night in jail. After her release, she contacted the press and a small story appeared. The judge then called her attorney demanding to know why he had advised her to go to the press. The elderly woman had no other recourse, the attorney needed to keep good relations with the judge, and nothing came of this.

Example 2: I know of another case in which a judge ordered a Department of Human Services caseworker to find a foster home for a child by midnight on a certain day. The caseworker failed and was jailed for contempt for several days. Upon being released, the caseworker quit DHS, leaving the section assigned responsibility for finding foster homes for abused children short one worker until a new one could be hired and trained.

There is a great deal more to write, but this will suffice as an introduction to the topic. In summary, the American legal system is essentially arbitrary, impossible to change, and extorts resources from the citizenry for the benefit of a small, powerful elite. It is a form of tyranny.

###

Postscript: This post has been a long time coming. It is coincidentally on the same theme as Grim’s recent post, The Trust Issue, which references this article about Americans prosecuted by the US for violating Honduran laws that had been repealed before the Americans “broke” them. (Grim h/ts Southern Appeal, a blogging lawyer.)

The inspiration for this post came from Grim’s blog as well. In a post I can no longer find because I can’t find a link to his archives, if he has them, there was a discussion of Crito, which relates Socrates decision to die as sentenced by law instead of run off to a safe city. I had invited someone at Grim’s to write an opposing piece, which I would be happy to post here if I could remember the gentleman’s name and contact him.

Finally, there is probably someone who has done this better, but this will do for me. I’d be happy to get links to any posts on similar or contrary themes.

Update, 2008 June 21: Grim links an excellent post from his archives that should be read as background philosophy for this post. The comments are excellent and should be read as well.

Also, I will be collecting other related links here.