Thursday, November 18, 2010

Steve Weinberg: Eight Myths of Justice

Eight Myths of Justice: Innocent Americans are routinely convicted and incarcerated. The new book False Justice explains how.
By Steve Weinberg
In These Times

In the 2006 U.S. Supreme Court ruling Kansas v. March, Justice David Souter and Justice Antonin Scalia conducted a public debate within their opposing written opinions. Discussing the fates of death row prisoners, Souter opined that in such high stakes cases, innocent men and women are too often found guilty. The “unusually high incidence of false conviction” is probably caused by “the combined difficulty of investigating without help from the victim, intense pressure to get convictions in homicide cases, and the corresponding incentive for the guilty to free the innocent,” Souter wrote.

Scalia countered that wrongful convictions are rare in capital cases because they “are given especially close scrutiny at every level, which is why in most cases many years elapse before the sentence is executed.”

For 40 years, I have researched, written about and obsessed over wrongful convictions. Souter’s thinking—heavily reliant on the research of Samuel Gross, a University of Michigan law professor who has demonstrated that wrongful convictions are more prevalent than most law enforcement insiders understand—is spot-on. Scalia’s is misguided, informed by a judicial culture more interested in speedy convictions than thorough investigations.

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