Unethical Quote Of The Month (And Maybe The Year): Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)

“As long as they’re dangerous, I hope they all die in jail if they’re going to go back and kill Americans. It won’t bother me one bit if 39 of them die in prison. That’s a better outcome than letting them go. And if it costs $500 million to keep them in jail, keep them in jail. Because they’re going to go back to the fight. Look at the fricken Afghan government that’s made up of former detainees at Gitmo. This whole thing by the left about this war ain’t working.”

Senator Lindsey Graham in a meltdown at the confirmation hearing for SCOTUS nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, before walking out in a tizzy.

Hmmm. Is it a good thing or a bad thing that high ranking elected officials from both political parties appear to have little regard for core Constitutional principles? I’m going out on a limb here by stating that it’s a bad thing.

In fact, it is terrible.

Graham, an alleged conservative, proudly went on record as supporting “pre-crime” punitive measures (Watch “Minority Report” for a fair assessment of how that works) along with a pure “ends justifies the means” endorsement, spiced up by some “if it saves just one life” false logic. Continue reading

The Criminal Justice Ethics Breakdown: Unforgivable, Incomprehensible, and Horrifying

"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

In Search of Accountability, Fairness, Justice and a Champion: the Unending Persecution of Anthony Graves

Job would pity Anthony Graves

Governments and other bureaucracies are capable of unimaginable callousness, stupidity, and wrongful conduct, allowing individual fools to multiply their power to harm exponentially, and then to see an inhuman computer-driven monstrosity run amuck as everyone denies responsibility. You could not devise a better example of this process than what Texas is doing to Anthony Graves.

He is an innocent man convicted of murder in 1994 who was released last October after spending 18 years in prison, condemned to death. He had been convicted with fabricated evidence and coached testimony employed against him by former Burleson County District Attorney Charles Siberia, and a state investigation got a Texas judge to set Graves free. But the maw of Texas bureaucracy wasn’t through ruining his life. Continue reading

The Training Myth and Connick v. Johnson

The U.S. Supreme Court is deliberating on the issue of whether a District Attorney’s office can be held liable when individual prosecutors commit serious misconduct, on the grounds that the government breached its duty to train its prosecutors and ensure their competence. The case is Connick v. Thompson, and it began when it was discovered that a New Orleans man had been sent to Death Row for 18 years for a crime he hadn’t committed. John Thompson was innocent, and a lab report proving that the blood found at the crime scene belonged to someone else would have proven it. Prosecutors withheld the evidence from the defense attorneys.

When Thompson was freed he was understandably angry, but the options for redress when the criminal justice system ruins your life are severely and unjustly limited. In 1976, the Supreme Court decided in Imbler v. Pachtman that prosecutors have absolute immunity from lawsuits, even when there is genuine, malicious and illegal conduct. The Court acknowledged that its ruling “does leave the genuinely wronged defendant without civil redress against a prosecutor whose malicious or dishonest action deprives him of liberty,” but declared the alternative was worse: making prosecutors timid and fearful of making a mistake that could leave them penniless. The Court suggested that professional discipline would be enough to keep prosecutors honest, but that hasn’t been the case: a USA Today study found that even in egregious cases of prosecutorial misconduct, attorneys who put innocent people in jail almost never had to endure any punishment at all. Thompson sued the District Attorney’s Office on a theory of negligent training, and won 14 million dollars from a sympathetic jury. Now the Supreme Court is deciding whether such suit can stand in light of the ruling in Pachtman.

It should, but the theory behind the lawsuit is a myth, and I suspect that everyone knows it. Continue reading

The Ethics of Compensating the Unjustly Imprisoned

The New York Times last week published the stories of two men, in different states, who were recently freed from prison after it was proven that they were wrongly convicted. Michael A. Green spent 27 years in a Texas penitentiary for a rape he didn’t commit. Thomas Lee Goldstein was locked up 24 years ago for a murder committed by someone else.

The lives of both men have been destroyed, obviously. The important question now is, who is accountable? What is owed to a human being who has been robbed of what should have been the best and most productive years of his life, and who owes it?

Both men will be getting some compensation from the state governments involved, though obviously no amount of money could make them whole: what would you accept in exchange for spending the years from 35 to 60 in a maximum security prison? Goldstein settled a lawsuit for nearly eight million dollars; Green is mulling an offer of $2.2 million from Texas, and may decide to sue to get more. 2.2 million dollars for 27 years in prison…let’s see, that works out to less than $81, 500 a year. Should he take the deal? I would not accept 2.2 million dollars to spend one year in jail, much less 27. Continue reading