Prosecutors and Balanced Justice

written by Dave and Bonnie Sanders
 
In Life After Death (2012), Damien Echols of the West Memphis Three reveals much about a troubling aspect of our nation’s criminal justice system. Despite overwhelming evidence of his innocence, the Attorney General of Arkansas wasted precious time, state funds, and taxpayer money to “defend a corrupt trial” and keep Echols in prison.  Echols states:
The statement they released to the media says it’s their constitutional duty to defend the guilty verdict.  Perhaps I’m wrong here, but I thought their duty was to defend justice. p. 369
In fact, a prosecutor’s mission should be a balanced one: convicting the guilty and protecting the innocent.  When convicting the guilty is prioritized over protecting the innocent, wrongful convictions are inevitable.
So what causes the scales of “justice” to tip toward conviction?  Why do prosecutors spend thousands of dollars fighting to keep people behind bars when there is convincing evidence of their innocence?  Why are some prosecutors so reluctant to admit a mistake – even when that mistake was made by prosecutors before them?  (For an infuriating example of such prosecutorial stubbornness, please see the case of Lorinda Swain.)

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A Raw Look at the Michigan Parole Board

dsandersportrait4In the past two years, I have attended three Michigan Parole and Commutation Board hearings. What I witnessed shocked me.

Hearings are not trials and I guess that one should not expect the same level of due process found in the courtroom.  But the current process makes no pretense of any fairness whatsoever and the playing field between the board and the attorney generals lawyer versus the prisoner is decidedly not level.  The state’s attorney is there only to prosecute, not to pursue real justice.  The state’s attorney is just there to castigate the prisoner and can spend literally hours doing so while not allowing the prisoner to say a word or respond in any way.  The prisoner has no right to counsel and must rely on his or her own wits to try and defend themselves.  The prisoner also has few other rights and there is no requirement that he or she be informed ahead of time what will be presented in opposition to his request for pardon. Here are some other observations.

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