Sunday, September 19, 2010

Name names, please

Michael Landauer at the Dallas News wrote a telling post reacting to Jeff Blackburn's lament on Grits while I was gone about why eyewitness ID reforms, which seem obvious to anyone paying attention, can't seem to gain traction. He declares that:
Candidate interviews have been interesting this year in a very unexpected way. Two examples. In one race for a criminal court, a longtime prosecutor talked about his stellar record. He never lost a case, essentially. I asked him if, knowing that we have had wrongful convictions, that bothered him. He went silent for about 15 seconds and offered a very thoughtful response. He was confident the system worked in almost every case, but he did have some eyewitness-only cases, and those troubled him.

Then, yesterday, we had a state rep candidate in who was attempting to address some criminal justice issues. She uttered the words that "eyewitness is, of course, the ultimate ..."
The ultimate what, I asked, thinking she meant to finish the thought by saying "ultimate area where mistakes happen." Nope. She said it's the "ultimate proof of a crime." She went on to say that if she sees someone do something, she knows they did it.

Wow. Just. Wow. 
Landauer thinks reforms haven't been implemented because people are "shamelessly ignorant of what is really happening," but he acknowledges Jeff's point that the politicians who made and enforce the laws refuse to admit they likely sent innocent people to prison, perhaps even a lot of them. He concludes that the problem is a "toxic mix of ignorance and stubbornness," but fails to name the state rep candidate who made such a foolish comment or the prosecutor who didn't mind sending folks to prison based on a single eyewitness. After all, if the media isn't telling voters who are these "ignorant" or "stubborn" pols, how can we prevent electing them?

Perhaps the Dallas News editorial board is waiting for their endorsements to reveal which politicians are promoting policies and ideas that help send innocent people to prison, but it sure seems like that's information they might want to share with readers instead of protecting those too ignorant or stubborn to acknowledge what's going on.

Milton in Paradise Lost wrote that "they who have put out the people’s eyes, reproach them of their blindness." With all respect to Michael and others at the News, there's some of that going on here. If the problem is "shameless" ignorance, surely the media sources through which most folks get their information are also partially to blame? It's easy to point fingers at politicians - hell, it's a national pastime - but mainstream media too frequently play into false assumptions about the justice system, including the Dallas News, and that's also a big part of the problem.

7 comments:

R. Shackleford said...

Easier to will oneself not to see. Otherwise, you'd have to acknowledge that our vaunted justice system is wicked screwed up. Very uncomfortable for most folks. I think the willful ignorance flows from both sides, the public and the politicians. Lotta cowards in America these days.

Anonymous said...

There's an old saying I've heard for years that goes: "convicting the guilty is easy but convicting the innocent takes lots of hard work."

Pleased to have you back, Grits.

Wasn't real pleasant around here last night w/the Evil Empire in town.

Plato

Anonymous said...

Convicting the innocent is easy. ...WHY?
(1) Because people want to believe in the system. Because of this false belief, the accused is presumed guilty. The believers think only the guilty are charged. None actually honor the admonition of "innocent until guilty" given at the start of a trial. Their rational is that our system is so good that only the guilty are accused of crime.
(2) The myth of the "adversarial system". The law governing the conduct of prosecutors (TX CCP 2.01) says they are paid "not to convict, but to see that justice is done." But they ignore this and hide thier disregard for this law by claiming "ours is an adversarial system". Thus; YOU, the people of Texas, the public, are their adversary. They do not want you to have justice. They want to convict you. They want to prove what great litigators they are. And they do it at YOUR expense in taxes, and possibly in penal sanctions as well - if you are the defendant.
(3) National and international criticizm of our dysfunctional system has been perverted into our "identity". It is now "Texan" to kill fellow Texans, to convict fellow Texans, to impose harsh, long, prison sentences on fellow Texans. It makes us more "moral", more "good",than the othes. The others being those who respect the law. Here, Law that would keep the innocent from conviction is simply a technicality. A technicality cannot be allowed to stand in the way of a prosecutor "doing their job" treating you, a citizen, as their "adversary" {aka = enemy}.

Anonymous said...

Probably most people (the general public) do not know of the problem of eyewitness ID. More coverage would help. I have not read Landauer's post but at least he is educating the public.
Another post/editorial could name names, now would be a good time.

P.S. I'm very glad you got a chance to get out of town. Welcome back!

L. Lockard Roth said...

What disturbs me about the "justice" in Texas is the refusal to see that mental illness is often at fault. It is cruel and inhumane to punish the mentally ill for crimes they are quite innocent of yet are pursuaded to confess to.
The societal dynamic to be "right" is a substantial part of the problem. The pressure to become a part of the religious fundamentalist right in Texas leads straight to intolerance for anyone that does not belong, fit in or believe as the group does. In Islam the worst punishment is stoning a person to death. In Texas, send them to the death chamber and kill them. Cleanse the group of the infidel. Maintain the status quo.
Thank you for Grits. Your blog starts the day out on the right note every day!

Denise said...

Amen to all the above observations and then there's the fact that the public is ignorant of the law, hoodwinked by slick verbiage coming from even slicker willys, beat down into mind numbing submission, and righteous with indignation only when it has a direct bearing on them personally. I continue to educate and encourage reform! Frequently tiring and often thankless...but absolutely necessary! Nothing changes if nothing changes. Got to step up to the plate.

The Team said...

Hey Scott, please let us know if you ever learn the identities of these two mystery candidates.

The eyewitness-only cases that are troubling this prosecutor deserve to be turned over to the Post Conviction Integrity Unit for a proper vetting.

The goofball that said, "Eyewitness is of course the ultimate proof of a crime" wants to represent us. *Yes, we need to know who ‘not’ to vote for and why. Folks, please don’t vote just to be voting. Thanks