More reasons to keep examining the U.S. legal system

Is justice even the goal anymore? Was it ever?

In her book Ordinary Injustice, Amy Bach sheds light on problems with the latitude most District Attorney’s are given in prosecution, and the shockingly small amount of accountability they face even when they make mistakes, are guilty of hiding evidence from the defense, or facilitating perjury.

For now, prosecutor’s decisions are not transparent, except in those major trials that make it to court. Prosecutors are not accountable and rarely have to justify their actions or identify the facts that contributed to them. With too little oversight on potentially momentous decisions that are made behind closed doors, prosecutors have no incentive to be neutral, fair, or to seek justice. Instead, they measure themselves by wins and losses, which is, in the end, a minor part of what their job means to the people who are victims of crime or to the communities that expect their protection. (pgs. 189, 190)

Now we find out the FBI has been overstating forensic hair analysis findings for more than twenty years. From WAPO:

The Justice Department and FBI have formally acknowledged that nearly every examiner in an elite FBI forensic unit gave flawed testimony in almost all trials in which they offered evidence against criminal defendants over more than a two-decade period before 2000.

Of 28 examiners with the FBI Laboratory’s microscopic hair comparison unit, 26 overstated forensic matches in ways that favored prosecutors in more than 95 percent of the 268 trials reviewed so far, according to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and the Innocence Project,

Included in the decades worth of cases are 32 people sentenced to death, fourteen of whom have been executed or died in prison.

Not every case turns on DNA evidence, but a large number do. So, mistakes of this magnitude constitute are in the words of Brandon Garrett, a “mass disaster.”

University of Virginia law professor Brandon L. Garrett said the results reveal a “mass disaster” inside the criminal justice system, one that it has been unable to self-correct because courts rely on outdated precedents admitting scientifically invalid testimony at trial and, under the legal doctrine of finality, make it difficult for convicts to challenge old evidence.

“The tools don’t exist to handle systematic errors in our criminal justice system,” Garrett said. “The FBI deserves every recognition for doing something really remarkable here. The problem is there may be few judges, prosecutors or defense lawyers who are able or willing to do anything about it.”

Surely these “systemic errors” contributed to the need for 125 exonerations across the U.S. in 2014 following ninety-one exonerations in both 2012 and 2013. New annual highs are set and broken with alarming regularity.

As a follower of Christ facts like these give me great pause. I believe governments were established in part to punish evildoers. But it’s time for Americans to face reality. We aren’t talking about years between wrongful convictions; it happens all the time. If we believe in justice then we cannot and should not blithely quote Romans 13 as if the Minor Prophets never scribbled a rebuke. Justice supersedes the function or structure of any human government. To demand adherence to a system fraught with injustice is not standing on scripture; it is subverting it.

Our criminal justice systems operates like a ship going full speed ahead while a leaky hull drowns passengers in their berths. This will not do.

Marty Duren

Just a guy writing some things.