Friday, November 6, 2009

Only God can Save the Innocent

Although we have seen examples of prosecutorial misconduct by the Rove Republican Racket based on political vengence and opportunism, one experienced law enforcement officer writes that much of the cases surrounding prosecutorial misconduct arise out of shoddy investigations and unreliable eyewitnesses.

Sunil Dutta (pictured) is a lieutenant in the Los Angeles Police Department. He also holds a PhD and entered the police force after working as a scientist and researcher.

In an opinion piece for the Christian Science Monitor, Dutta writes:

Major harm could result from our reliance on two very fallible tools: eyewitnesses and shoddy forensic science.  Consider a recent example: On Feb. 17, 2004, Texas executed Cameron Todd Willingham for the arson deaths of his three daughters. In September, an investigative article in The New Yorker revealed that Mr. Willingham was innocent. It sparked a series of investigations that found he was the victim of shoddy crime scene investigation and outdated theories.
In 2006, when the Rove-Bush-Cheney administration fired nine U.S. Attorneys, the political masters struck the drums: go after Democratic fundraisers, Democratic boosters, Democratic political operatives, and Democratic governors.

Although Dutta writes of police departments, his observations can be applied to U.S. Attorney offices during the Rove years:

Aside from the fallibility of eyewitnesses, our political model of control over the police can lead to inadvertent mistakes. Municipal police departments dance to the tune of their political masters who thrive on the constant drumbeat of "tough on crime" rhetoric. The only evidence that police can measure to tout our tough-on-crime rhetoric is increasing the number of arrests and reducing crime rates.

This pressure to be productive, the lack of personnel and time, and the desire to wrap up an incident, combined with the unreliability of eyewitnesses, increases the odds that an innocent person may be arrested, or worse, convicted. Add to this our system that rates prosecutorial performance on conviction rates and we are on a slippery slope. And when corrupt prosecutors who present false evidence, even in death penalty cases, such as the now disbarred Arizona prosecutor Kenneth Peasley, enter the mix, only God can save the innocent.
It is obvious that the political pressure to be "tough on corruption" by the Rove-Bush Administration led many U.S. Attorney offices to target innocent Democrats and to expand the use of the dishonest "honest services" statute.

Read the full column here.