Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Prosecutorial Misconduct

In our criminal justice system, the guilty often go free. At the same time, the innocent can be harassed by politically motivated prosecution. The Duke rape case appears to be the latest of the latter. Our system is careful to protect the rights of the guilty but the innocent can be powerless. Democracy doesn't necessarily help: Durham D.A. Michael Nifong appears to have won his primary battle because of rather than in spite of his seeming prosecutorial misconduct.

In the '80s and early '90s, there were several people falsely convicted of bizarre and unlikely child molestation changes. Grant Snowden was lucky enough to have his conviction overturned after evidence presented was freed after 12-years in prison. 14-year-old Bobby Fijnje spent two years in the Miami Juvenile Detention Center on molestation charges before a jury before a jury declared him not guilty. Both these miscarriages of justice were perpetrated by then Miami prosecutor Janet Reno. For this, Janet Reno was not punished but rather rewarded. Bill Clinton selected her to become the US Attorney General. Similarly, DA Scott Harshbarger infamously obtained convictions against the Amirault family and went on to become the Massachusetts attorney general and later to head the liberal-lobby group Common Cause.

The one thing that these case have in common is identity politics. The Duke Lacrosse players are Southern whites and therefore, as as a group, are presumed guilty of brutalizing blacks. Similarly, child-care workers, as a group, are presumed guilty in child-molestation cases. Punishing an unpopular group can be popular and successful politics even if the punished individuals happen to be innocent.

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