Tuesday, April 20, 2004

The courage of our convictions?

These two articles caught my attention and got me thinking. Study Suspects Thousands of False Convictions and Chemist May Have Destroyed Evidence.

When I was in undergrad, I took a class on constitutional law. In the portion where we discussed the rights of the accused, we learned that there are two models through which to view criminal prosecution. First, there was the “civil liberties" view, which essentially held that it is more acceptable to release a guilty man rather than to convict an innocent man. Conversely, the “crime control" model stated that it was more acceptable to convict an innocent man than to let a guilty man go free. At first glance it would seem that the current attitude in America is much closer to the “crime control” model. For example, being “tough on crime” is invariably viewed as a political positive. Couple that with the negative connotation of constitutional violations being viewed as “technicalities” and its clear that Americans are much more concerned about locking up bad guys than they are with protecting the rights of the innocent.

Of course, what occurs in reality is far different. The real model of criminal investigation and prosecution is simple: regardless of guilt or innocence, the only acceptable outcome is a conviction and the appearance of crime control. Period. And what is most fucked about this reality is that it is the worst possible outcome. For the appearance of justice, innocent people are incarcerated and the guilty go free. Consequently, we're less safe in our communities and less secure in our rights.