|Salem Witch Trials
Of The Moment
|Ninety-three percent of persons accused of crimes enter
a plea of guilty. Of the remaining 7%, 75% who go to trial are convicted.
I would like to put some names on some of those 75%.
1. Dennis Fritz: 12 years in an Oklahoma prison for rape and
All but two of the above men were proven to be innocent by DNA evidence. All were found innocent and released from prison. Two, noted, are still awaiting New Trial hearings after DNA evidence has proven their innocence. One died of cancer while awaiting execution.
A recent article in U.S.A. Today quotes Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project as stating that releases from prison based on DNA evidence have reached more than one-hundred men. I am still missing 46 plus names from the above list, at least.
Over another 100 prisoners have been released from prisons in California due to police misconduct uncovered in the Los Angeles Rampart investigation.
The 93% of prisoners who entered a plea of guilty are sometimes very closed-minded when someone they are imprisoned with claims they are innocent. This, I believe, is because, at least to them, the system seems to be working as they were taught as children --it was supposed to work. They did the crime, they got caught, they were sent to prison.
But for some of us the system broke down. For some of us the equal justice we were promised became an un-ending nightmare. If an allegation of rape is false, and no rape ever occurred, there is no biological evidence to test. Yet in today's society the unsupported, uncorroborated testimony of the accuser is sufficient by law to support a conviction.
In 12 years of being a jailhouse lawyer, reading transcripts of hundreds of trials, and reviewing tens of thousands of reported cases, my greatest doubts of guilt always keep returning to those cases where men have been convicted of a sex offense, usually where charges were brought years later, and the conviction was based solely on the testimony of the alleged victim without any medical examination or other evidence adduced to support the contention that a crime of any type had actually occurred.
The prosecutors and victims services who work for the prosecutor office, generate so many "clichés'" in relation to these types of convictions that it makes me question why they do not feel the evidence alone is sufficient. If a defendant pleads innocent, he is "in denial." Is it possible the prosecutors are "in denial" of the fact that some of these charges must be false? Does not the list of men's lives that have been totally destroyed above prove that?
Or are men accused of sex offenses simply the target of the moment? Have you studied history? It seems like the local and national law enforcement political machine has always had a "Public Enemy No.1" to get up on their soap box at election time and rant and rave about. Where do I start? How far back in history do you want to go? Spanish Inquisition? Indians? Moonshiners and Prohibition? Communists? Women's Suffrage? Drug Traffickers? Soviet Union? Illegal Immigrants? Spies? Terrorists? Are these perhaps all nothing more that the Salem Witch Trials of the moment?
There was a talk show out of Miami in the early 1980's that was hosted by Allen Burke. He said something I have remembered for 20 years one night. He was talking about how in the 1950's it was common for a man to work 8 hours a day and be able to support his family. It was common for the wife not to work and to stay home taking care of the children and the house. In most instances of this, it was not because she couldn't work because "Rosie the Riveter" had eliminated that myth, it was because she didn't want to, or need to work. She stayed home and instilled common sense and moral values in the children. The husbands' income was sufficient to provide a decent lifestyle.
Then the government started raising taxes and imposing new taxes on items never before taxed, and corporations started raising prices. Inflation set in and both the husband and the wife found it necessary to work in order to be able to progress and plan for their children's education and their retirement.
Worse yet, as time passed, eight hour days became ten hour days, or more. Mr. Burke stated, "They have the American people on treadmill. Both the husband and wife work 12 hours a day, six days week, just to make ends meet, while paying the government one-half their income a year either in direct or hidden taxes." He said that after working 12 hours a day, six days a week, the people, "were so tired by the time they did get home that they didn't have the energy to go burn Washington to the ground and solve the problem by starting over."
As to innocent citizens in prison, the government has this country on a treadmill also. The whole foundation of why the Courts refuse to recognize innocence as a constitutional right is the judicially created doctrine of preserving the "finality" of State court convictions. The courts hold the State's interest in keeping down the cost convictions justifies the quick end of appeals and challenges to convictions to save the States money and resources.
To enforce those holdings and to bring appeals to an end, the rules of procedure place time limits on appeals, and now, Habeas Corpus petitions in federal courts.
Further, a prisoner is prohibited from raising an issue that could have been raised at an earlier time. He or she is prohibited from raising an issue, already decided, for a second time, no matter how unjust, or inept, the first decision on that issue was. Attorneys who failed to raise an issue, or who incompetently presented an issue, are subjected to a review of their performance that equates to a "mirror test." If the attorney appeared to have been breathing (in some cases even while sleeping), then the prisoner is presumed to have received competent representation. Even when the attorney assigned to his appeal was an "of counsel" fresh out of law school.
If the State fails to raise or argue a defense against the appeal, not to worry, the judge will raise it and apply it for the State. But if the defendant fails to raise or argue an error, or a procedural point, that any competent legal mind could discern from the record while reviewing it, the judge will hold the issue to be waived by the defendant and uncorrectable error.
All of this leads to a paper chase where facts important to the determination of the truth are either conveniently ignored, or held as not properly preserved in some distant lower court.
I ask you, what legitimate government interest is there in the finality" of the conviction of a citizen who can prove they are innocent? In terms of providing humane living conditions in prisons required by the 8th Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, courts have consistently held the impact on a State's Treasury is not to be considered.
Why then is the concept of "finality," which is conceded to exist to save the State the cost of endless litigation, sufficient as a government interest to prevent a prisoner from presenting --in any court-- evidence proving that prisoner's innocence?
In Herrera v. Collins, 506 U.S. 809 (1992), Chief Justice Rehnquist stated that because "innocence" is not specifically mentioned the Constitution, a claim of innocence does not arise to a constitutional level.
With all due respect, neither does the Constitution specifically discuss abortion, adoption, marriage, false imprisonment, or incest, but each has been found to involve Constitutional rights. Is not the right to "liberty" mentioned somewhere in that great document? Is not an imprisoned innocent citizen's "liberty" infringed upon? Does the impact on a State's Treasury of a prisoner litigating his or her innocence somehow exceed the cost to the state of continuing to imprison that prisoner for, oh let's say 40 years to life, under conditions meeting the 8th Amendment's requirements?
Is it more expensive to keep an innocent prisoner for life, or give them a chance to prove their innocence and be released? Of the above 54 men, they spent combined in excess of 661 years in prison. At an average cost of $22,000 a year, that's $14,542,000 of wasted taxpayer money.
I find it hard to believe that someone, somewhere, couldn't hold 54 court hearings for less than 14 million dollars.
Granted, in most of the above cases the DNA technology that set them free wasn't available for years. But two concerns arise at that point. First, if you thoroughly read and review the cases above it quickly becomes obvious the majority of wrongful convictions were caused by police and prosecutorial misconduct. See, Actual Innocence, by Barry Scheck, Peter Neufield and Jim Dwyer, Doubleday 2000. Second, of 361 murder cases reversed for prosecutorial or police misconduct since 1963, no prosecutor or police officer has ever been disciplined for the misconduct. Id. at page 175.
Therein lies the problem. We've come full circle. Elected Police Chiefs and elected Prosecutors cannot advance in their political careers if the public is repeatedly subjected to news stories of prisoners they have arrested, testified against, convicted and sent to prison, having proven themselves innocent and being released from prison.
Ex-prosecutors are your judges and legislators. They have placed innocent men and women in prison at one time or another in their career. As long as they, as judges and legislators, prevent those people from proving themselves innocent, they don't have to worry about it becoming an issue in the next election campaign.
The problem is self-perpetuating. Maybe Allen Burke's suggestion has some arguable merit.
James Love. All Rights Reserved.
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