There are many of you probably reading this who believe that the way I write about the criminal justice system on this blog is unfair, skewed, and maybe just flat wrong. The issue of wrongful convictions stands in stark contrast to the innumerable forms of propaganda promulgated through the media, universities, and even our own idealism. Criminal justice reality is much different:
The criminal justice system in the United States today bears little relationship to what the Founding Fathers contemplated, what the movies and television portray, or what the average American believes. – Jed S. Rakoff
Most of us know the obvious truth that what we see on TV likely isn’t real, even in this day and age of reality TV. We all know or have heard the phrase “Hollywoodize,” where TV producers and movie directors won’t let the facts get in the way of a good story. Many of us grew up with television shows like TJ Hooker, Matlock, Law & Order, and, more lately, CSI – shows that almost invariably depict a criminal justice system working almost seamlessly, if unconventionally, and armed with the best in technology and scientific application. And where the technology might be wanting, for example in the case of a Matlock or Murder She Wrote, the brilliant minds of the investigators solve the crime in the end, and we can all feel safer.
It’s very easy to take these simplistic portrayals in the media as somehow giving us a glimpse into the realities that make up what is actually a very complex, convoluted, and even confusing combination of human relationships, human action, and (especially) human crime. But even taking into account the fact that, yeah yeah, we know TV hollywoodizes things, and we know that sometimes innocent people get convicted – still, we say, the criminal justice system works – our Constitution protects the legal process, criminal justice is simply applying a series of laws, most of which haven’t changed for hundreds of years, and to call any of this into question seems almost un-American.
My point here in this post, and the point made in the article quoted, is that even if you don’t want to believe that things are as bad as I make out, a simple read of virtually any of the cases listed here: http://www.innocenceproject.org/cases/ or discussed in any of the books I talk about here will show that the system is far from sound. By just looking at one story, you will be confronted with the fact that the judicial system has drifted away from the moorings that our Founding Fathers hoped to guarantee through our trial process.
So I encourage you to take a moment and simply pick one of the stories herein and read it, and ask yourself, how could this have happened in the justice system that you thought we had? Because the reality is, you can take that one story and multiply it by ten, and by ten again, and you’ll have to see that no matter how much faith you want to place in our system, the mistakes happen too often to be excused. They’ve happened too often to be merely brushed aside. It’s time to make a change. It’s time to speak up on behalf of those victimized when the system gets it wrong (however often you think that occurs).
My hope is that raising awareness of wrongful convictions and the need for criminal justice reform will not only help those already wrongfully convicted to get the assistance they need, but will also, perhaps, enable others to protect themselves from future wrongful convictions.