This week, a federal jury found that District of Columbia. police framed Donald E. Gates, an innocent man, for a 1981 rape and murder of a 21-year-old Georgetown University student. Gates, who is African American, was imprisoned for 27 years. Two days after the verdict, the city settled with Gates for $16.65 million in damages.
The trial determined that two D.C. homicide detectives,Ronald S. Taylor and Norman Brooks, both now retired, largely fabricated the confession Gates was supposed to have made to a police informant. The detectives also withheld other evidence from Gates’ defense attorney. You can read the whole horrible story here.
There are a couple of aspects of this story, and others like it, that I don’t understand at all.
One is this: why aren’t the two detectives going to prison? Their conduct has cost the city’s taxpayers eight figures in damages, it has already cost an innocent man the prime of his life, and what is their penalty? I would support capital punishment for police like these. Destroying a man’s life, breaching a public duty, shredding public trust, using the law for evil— few murders do so much damage. It makes no sense for there not to be life imprisonment, execution, something to announce to the community that police and law enforcement officers will and must be held to the highest standards, and suffer greatly when they fail to meet the lowest. From what I can tell, these evil detectives—that’s a fair description, isn’t it?— aren’t even going to lose their pensions. Continue reading
Long-time Ethics Alarms commenter Michael R. delivers another of his provocative and informative Comments of the Day, this time on the festering scandal that is prosecutor misconduct and abuses of due process in our criminal justice system. This kind of commentary justifies the existence of Ethics Alarms, in my view, regardless of what I may write here. It is a virtual template for what makes a Comment of the Day.
Here is Michael R’s COTD on the post, “KABOOM! Head Exploded, Can’t Write, Don’t Need To: The FBI Forensic Scandal”… Continue reading
"Yeah, that's bad, but can you believe those gas prices?"
There is no longer any way for the defenders of the criminal justice system, or indeed American democracy and its ideals, to deny that thousands, and perhaps tens of thousands, of Americans languish in prison for crimes they did not commit. This fact is so terrible in its implications for the nation, the system, the public and the legal profession that I feel incapable of grasping it all, still, though this has been slowly dawning on me for a long time. Right now, it is all I can manage to escape denial, for the deprivation of so many innocent people of their liberty is my responsibility, as well as yours, and that of everyone else. Even in the midst of serious policy debates over so much else that is vital to our future, how can anyone argue that this isn’t the highest priority of all?
Yesterday, the Washington Post revealed that
“Justice Department officials have known for years that flawed forensic work might have led to the convictions of potentially innocent people, but prosecutors failed to notify defendants or their attorneys even in many cases they knew were troubled. Officials started reviewing the cases in the 1990s after reports that sloppy work by examiners at the FBI lab was producing unreliable forensic evidence in court trials. Instead of releasing those findings, they made them available only to the prosecutors in the affected cases, according to documents and interviews with dozens of officials. Continue reading