Monday, February 7, 2011

The American System of Injustice

The American "Justice System" is fraught will prejudice, filled with corruption and blinded by the indifference of a numbers game. When any system is managed by people who's only measure of success is how many convictions they have had, corruption is the inevitable result.

U.S. Justice System Rampant With ‘Bad Science’

Every year, convictions for serious crimes occur based on debunked pseudo-science such as forensic dentistry and arson science. Add in poor usage of police lineups and fingerprinting, and the potential for finding innocent people guilty is immense. All in all, our courts are scientifically impaired to a degree that’s a menace to justice. Via Yahoo News:

The story of an American man cleared of a rape and robbery conviction by DNA evidence after spending 30 years in jail made headlines across the world on Tuesday.

But despite advances in science and technology, such exonerations are rare, and experts say the US criminal justice system remains riddled with problems that arise from outdated practices and, quite simply, bad science.

Perhaps the worst offender is the police lineup. Research shows that 75 percent of all wrongful convictions that are later cleared by DNA evidence start with eyewitness mistakes.

That was the case for Cornelius Dupree, who was fingered in 1979 by a rape victim who incorrectly picked him out of a photo array. Texas District Judge Don Adams on Tuesday declared Dupree, 51, “free to go” after serving more than 30 years behind bars.

“Cornelius Dupree spent the prime of his life behind bars because of mistaken identification that probably would have been avoided if the best practices now used in Dallas had been employed,” said attorney Barry Scheck.

Changing the way photo lineups are done is key, because memory is flawed and witnesses are prone to subtle suggestion by police who want to catch a criminal, according to University of Virginia School of Law professor Brandon Garrett. But in a country where tens of thousands of cases each year rely on eyewitness testimony for convictions, the scale of reform is falling far short.

The same holds true for other old-fashioned police methods that remain in practice even though modern day science has disproved their reliability.

“I actually divide forensic science into two big camps,” said Michael Saks, law professor at Arizona State University. “There is the camp that is using real science that is borrowed from basic science, such as chemistry and DNA.

“On the other hand you have got the kind of — well, my kindest word for it is almost-science or wannabe science, and that includes handwriting, fingerprints, fire and arson investigation and forensic dentistry.”

What Would Dr. King Make Of Hyper-Incarcertion in the 21st Century?
Prison Culture

In 1964, a year after the March on Washington and four years before Dr. King was assassinated, there were 81,099 Americans in prison. 27,191 were black. In 2009, there were 1,613,656 prisoners in America. Over 600,000 were black. Over 2.3 million people are locked up in prisons and jails in the U.S. and over 850,000 of these are black. Sociologist Lawrence Bobo explains that “[t]he rise of mass incarceration has had a disproportionate effect on African-American communities, especially those that are low-income.” He adds that “[w]e are at a point where 1 in 15 black men is in jail or prison – and for those between the ages of 20-34, the rate is 1 in 9.”

As one of the most important moral voices of last century, Dr. King spoke of racial and economic justice. He cared deeply about human rights. What would he have to say about America’s prison boom and particularly its destructive effects on poor people in general and poor blacks in particular?

I looked back at some of his words for guidance and offer the following excerpts from Why We Can’t Wait published in 1964 for your consideration:

“Jailing the Negro was once as much of a threat as the loss of a job. To any Negro who displayed a spark of manhood, a southern law-enforcement officer could say: “Nigger, watch your step, or I’ll put you in jail.” The Negro knew what going to jail meant. It meant not only confinement and isolation from his loved ones. It meant that at the jailhouse he could probably expect a severe beating. And it meant that his day in court, if he had it, would be a mockery of justice.”

This excerpt is incredibly rich and ripe for analysis. Dr. King links the jailing of black people in his era with the State’s abiding interest in emasculating black men.

What type of threat does incarceration pose for black people in 2011? Rose Brewer and Nancy Heitzeg (2008) make the case that “[t]he post-civil rights era explosion in criminalization and incarceration is fundamentally a project in racialization and macro injustice.” Michelle Alexander calls it the “New Jim Crow.” These writers and researchers suggest that hyper or mass incarceration has emerged in part as an “indirect mechanism for perpetuating systemic racism.” Recently Bill Quigley advanced fourteen examples of racism in the criminal justice system. These examples support the case made by scholars and social commentators that what we are currently experiencing in the 21st century is as Loic Wacquant has characterized it “a new fourth state of racial oppression.”

Even today there still exists in the South — and in certain areas of the North — the license that our society allows to unjust officials who implement their authority in the name of justice to practice injustice against minorities. Where, in the days of slavery, social license and custom placed the unbridled power of the whip in the hands of overseers and masters, today — especially in the southern half of the nation — armies of officials are clothed in uniform, invested with authority, armed with the instruments of violence and death and conditioned to believe that they can intimidate, maim or kill Negroes with the same recklessness that once motivated the slaveowner. If one doubts this conclusion, let him search the records and find how rarely in any southern state a police officer has been punished for abusing a Negro. (King, 1964)

Dr. King references the history of slavery and posits its critical import in understanding black people’s relationship to the criminal legal system. He explains black people’s inherent mistrust of law enforcement as having its roots in slavery and in Jim Crow. The words quoted above have as much relevance in 2011 as when they were first written by Dr. King in 1963. One only needs to think of Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, and the countless nameless and faceless young people of color who are subjected to the whims of the punishing state and its implementers (police, court personnel, etc…) to grasp the relevance for today.

Since nonviolent action has entered the scene, however, the white man has gasped at a new phenomenon. He has seen Negroes, by the hundreds and by the thousands, marching toward him, knowing they are going to jail, wanting to go to jail, willing to accept the confinement, willing to risk the beatings and the uncertain justice of the southern courts.

There were no more powerful moments in the Birmingham episode than during the closing days in the campaign, when Negro youngsters ran after white policemen, asking to be locked up. There was an element of unmalicious mischief in this. The Negro youngsters, although perfectly willing to submit to imprisonment, knew that we had already filled up the jails, and that the police had no place left to take them.

When, for decades, you have been able to make a man compromise his manhood by threatening him with a cruel and unjust punishment, and when suddenly he turns upon you and says: “Punish me. I do not deserve it. But because I do not deserve it, I will accept it so that the world will know that I am right and you are wrong,” you hardly know what to do. You feel defeated and secretly ashamed. You know that this man is as good a man as you are; that from some mysterious source he has found the courage and the conviction to meet physical force with soul force.(King, 1964)

It frankly seems quaint to recall how mass protests for racial and economic justice occurred not that long ago with people who were hoping to be arrested and locked up. Their level of commitment to the cause of social justice was that strong. It is difficult to believe that thousands of people in 2011 would mobilize in this same way to address the injustice of mass incarceration. Yet it is something to strive for.

So it was that, to the Negro, going to jail was no longer a disgrace but a badge of honor. The Revolution of the Negro not only attacked the external cause of his misery, but revealed him to himself. He was somebody. He had a sense of somebodiness. He was impatient to be free. (King, 1964, pp.26-30)

There is a certain perverseness to the words above as we consider them in 2011. What we know today is that for some young black boys in particular going to prison has become a more common experience than going to college, joining a union, or doing military service. These young people are not there as resisters in the classic sense. They are the unwilling fodder for an insatiable punishing state that is looking to disappear them. The outstanding question is whether people of color and in particular black people in 2011 are ready to organize a large-scale movement to dismantle the prison industrial complex. The jury is still out on this. It has been written that for Dr.King social justice would not “roll in on the wings of inevitability” but would come through struggle and sacrifice. One would imagine that he would exhort us all today to struggle and sacrifice in order to dismantle the unjust and destructive racial caste system that is a by-product of hyper or mass incarceration. Happy Birthday, Dr. King and thank you! I leave everyone with these powerful words by Dr. King.

The Innocent Imprisoned

Some fears are universal. Death. Disease. The loss of a child. Going to jail for something you didn't do. The people listed here are living the last one, their lives wasting away in prison for crimes they didn't commit.
Note: We add links to updates with the original news articles reporting developments in innocence cases, so be sure to scroll down to check for "new news".


Robert Conway
A panel of Pennsylvania Superior Court judges has overturned a Montgomery County judge’s decision denying Robert Conway’s bid to conduct DNA tests on items recovered from a 1986 crime scene – tests Conway claimed might prove his innocence. County Assistant District Attorney Robert Falin fought Conway’s request, and a reasonable person has to wonder what the State is trying to hide.

Chad Evans
Chad Evans is serving a 43 years-to-life sentence at the state prison in Concord, New Hampshire. He was convicted of murder in the death of 21-month-old Kassidy Bortner, who died in November, 2000. But he said new material, including DNA evidence, has come to light in his case.

Rey Moore

Reynold Moore, 62, one of six men convicted in October 1995 of being party to the murder of Tom Monfils in a Green Bay, WI paper mill,has enlisted the aid of the Wisconsin Innocence Project in seeking a new trial. The new evidence in Moore's appeal concerns testimony by James Gilliam, a prison inmate who had testified at trial that Moore told him in jail that he participated in a group beating of Monfils at a water fountain in the mill. WIP attorney Byron Lichstein claims Gilliam has since changed his story and now says Moore actually told him that Moore stepped in to try to prevent the beating, not to participate in it. Without Gilliam's jailhouse snitch testimony, there is no evidence connecting Moore to Monfils' death.

UPDATE: On January 21, 2010, Rey Moore's petition for a new trial was denied.

Visit Live Criminal Law Information for more case examples of American Injustice


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