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View Diary: Morning Feature: To free the innocent (with poll and matching gift) (90 comments)

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  •  Pro Bono (16+ / 0-)

    One of my sons is a criminal defense attorney and he still takes court appointed pro bono cases, even though he can 'afford' not to.  A couple of years ago, he defended a young man accused of murder and he was acquitted.  The young man's grandmother on hearing the verdict shouted out "Attorney *****, you're the Johnnie Cochran of ****."  We didn't know if that was a good thing or not...

    My point being, even lawyers who make substantial money defending the rich, shouldn't forget the 'unrich' who also deserve their services.

    •  Your son us a good man! I hope there (10+ / 0-)

      are many excellent and successful attorneys who do not forget to help the less fortunate.

    •  All the pro bono on God's green earth (12+ / 0-)

      wont match the deluge of cases flooding the systems in our big cities. Of course, we must still be thankful for people like your son. Even many of the big corporate law firms require many of their associates to do some pro bono, and this is helpful.

      Believe me, the prosecutors, police, and prison officials know who has the advantage. The political leaders have sanctioned the current state of affairs by largely giving them a pat on the head. Defendents know too. They know they are going to get hit with a piano if they go to trial because chances are they are going to not be nearly as well prepared as the prosecution.

      So while in theory our system says "innocent until proven guilty" the weight of the process is tilted heavily, heavily in favor of "guilty until proven innocent."

      That is, unless you are rich.

      •  Philly has had trouble for years (5+ / 0-)

        The local DA places a heavy emphasis on charging with death penalty charges.  It acts as an intimidating factor which likely causes many pleadings which are false, from defendants who are afraid of the consequences of pursuing a not-guilty verdict and failing.

        We have an election coming up for DA, which will give us a chance to try a different way, since the DA for the last 18 years is finally retiring.

        Ancora Impara--Michelangelo

        by aravir on Wed May 13, 2009 at 06:07:28 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  And Philly has (4+ / 0-)

          a) A very low rate of crime for a US city
          b) A higher than average rate of crime for US city

          if you  picked b) you win!

          Philly has the 10th highest rate of violent crime of any US city. The 7th highest murder rate.  12th highest rate of rape.

          link

          •  Exactly. (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            plf515, NCrissieB, DParker, FarWestGirl

            "Tough on crime" with its attendant aggressive policing, excessive sentences, and no investment in rehabilitation is not a crime deterrent.

            The best way to keep most people from crime is a stable middle classs job. Now, of course, there will always be exceptions. But if we had fewer cases in the system we could strike a better balance in how we litigate the system of justice. That would led to less wrongful convictions.

            It's great to praise things like the innocence project for doing important work. But its a shame a society even requires such a thing in the first place.

            •  The Witness Protection program (5+ / 0-)

              Has a much lower recidivism rate than incarceration.  Only 17% of those who go into the program return to crime, versus 40% of those who are incarcerated.

              This inevitably raises interesting questions.  All the witness protection program does is remove a criminal from any and all contact with former associates, help him/her get a job along with a new identity, and a place to live.  Once the witness is employed and housed, the role of the feds ceases to exist unless there is a problem of some kind.

              Food there for plenty of thought about our current preferred methods for dealing with criminals.

              The austerity you see around you covers the richness of life like a veil -- Anonymous

              by winterbanyan on Wed May 13, 2009 at 06:58:28 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

    •  Johnnie Cochran was very (7+ / 0-)

      involved in the Innocence Project.  

      One reason many lawyers can afford to donate a lot of time, pro bono, is because they make a lot of money doing other things.

    •  Many state bars require pro bono hours ... (10+ / 0-)

      ... but as brooklynbadboy noted above, all the pro bono work in the world isn't enough to offset the huge advantages of the state.  A typical metropolitan area public defender's office might have a dozen investigators, as compared to the hundreds or even thousands of law enforcement agents working in that community.

      In theory, state forensic labs are supposed to be independent and focus solely on scientific evaluation of the evidence.  In reality, most are funded and staffed through state police agencies, and many only test evidence from those agencies.  So if the defense want evidence tested, in most cases the defendant has to pay for a private lab to do the testing.

      Moreover, the police are the ones who decide which crime scene evidence to gather, and by the time the defense gets the case that opportunity has passed.  It's all but impossible to know or prove whether the police missed any forensic evidence, except in rare cases where one piece of evidence (e.g.: a crime scene photo) shows the existence of another (e.g.: an object in the photo not documented elsewhere).

      So the defense team's investigative work is often limited to interviewing eyewitnesses, and juries usually (rightly!) weigh eyewitness testimony less reliable than forensic testimony.  Juries also usually (not so rightly!) weigh citizen testimony less reliable than law enforcement testimony, on the theory that citizens always have some reason to lie, while law enforcement agents do not.

      The net result is that when the full weight of the state comes barreling down on a defendant, only the wealthiest and most privileged defendants get even close to a "level playing field."  And if they can afford a "level playing field," the media describe that as "buying a verdict."

      The miracle is that the system works as well as it does, and that is a testament to the dedicated and honest law enforcement agents, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges who are the majority in the criminal justice system.

      Good morning! ::hugggggggggs::

      •  Indeed (7+ / 0-)

        the vast majority of police officers and so on want to arrest guilty people; and, very often, they do arrest guilty people.  But everyone makes mistakes..... and sometimes they are deliberate.

        •  That's why this project is so important. (9+ / 0-)

          Yes, there are people who make malicious mistakes in the criminal justice system.  And even setting those aside, there are innocent mistakes where someone makes the best decision he/she can on the information he/she has, and it turns out to be wrong.  That's why we have appellate review, and it's also why we need groups like The Innocence Project to reexamine cases that weren't corrected on initial appeals.

          The "moral" of yesterday's diary was that we need careful, thorough review of criminal cases where new evidence comes to light.  We can't have a mistake-free trial system; it's simply not possible in any system involving human beings.  Appellate and other post-conviction review is not "efficient," but it's a necessary redundancy.

          Every one of those mistakes is a moral stain on We the People.  Criminal cases are styled State v. Jones or People v. Jones or U.S. v Jones for good reason; the alternative is Pissed-Off Posse v. Jones.  But that means We the People assume the risk of the mistakes, and We the People are morally culpable if the mistakes are left uncorrected.

          •  Let me ask you something Crissie (6+ / 0-)

            If a lawyer on either side appears to be totally unprepared to present a case, can a judge hearing the case intervene?  We've all heard stories about lawyers (usually Defense) sleeping during the trial, and other examples of shoddiness, so does the judge have the authority to remedy a bad situation?

            •  That's a very difficult question. (7+ / 0-)

              In theory, the judge can intervene sua sponte if he/she sees a clear injustice.  In practices, judges are loathe to do so because that can give an impression of partiality.  It happens more often in bench trials or other proceedings where there's no jury.  But if the jury is in the courtroom the judge's commitment to impartiality weighs against intervening unless it's a manifest injustice.

              That said, I've seen judges do that in subtle ways, e.g.: "This would be a good time for a break, so we can all get some coffee."

              Translation: "I'd appreciate it if counsel - and the jury - would wake up and look interested, since this is a criminal trial and that's kind of important to some of us, including the defendant, the victim, and society as a whole...."

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