Sunday, June 17, 2007

Will Mike Nifong Pay the Piper?

Disgraced and now disbarred, Mike Nifong, the nefarious prosecutor in the Duke lacrosse case, may (and should) face further sanctions. USA Today reports he may face a criminal investigation. About time. The real scandal, though is how many prosecutors never face consequences for violating the public trust. Bill Peterson, the Ada, Oklahoma, district attorney exposed in John Grisham's book Innocent Man, continues to practice law as the District Attorney in Ada, even though he admits to his role in sentencing an innocent man to death. On his web site, Peterson says, "I cannot change the reality that two men were convicted of a crime they did not commit." He neglects to say that had he exercised a bit of diligence and common sense while representing the people of Oklahoma, he could have prevented the wrongful conviction in the first place. The cavalier arrogance of prosecutors more concerned with the appearance of justice rather than the pursuit of justice is, simply, against the law. Prosecutors, as representatives of the people, are charged with seeking truth and justice rather than simply convictions. When their ethical compass becomes obscured by ambition, a polictical agenda, or just mean-spiritedness, they need to face consequences. They need to pay the piper.

Monday, June 11, 2007

More on the Wrongful Conviction Rate

Samuel R. Gross, the Thomas and Mabel Long Professor of Law at the University of Michigan, writes in today's LA Times:

If 1% of commercial airliners crashed on takeoff, we'd shut down every airline in the country. That would be nearly 300 crashes a day. If as few as 1% of criminal convictions are erroneous, right now there are more than 20,000 innocent defendants behind bars.

But 1% seems like a low number based upon his research. At least 3.3% of those convicted of murder were innocent. How many were wrongly convicted of lesser crimes for which there is less scrutiny? How many innocent people, fearing the possibility of a wrongful conviction, much less the wanting to avoid the expense of a trial or time lost while unable to make bail, have copped pleas? How much are we paying to incarcerate the innocent?