Breaking: The Criminal Justice System is Corrupt

by Brien Jackson

Via John Cole, I’m actually depressingly unsurprised by the revelation that a person was put on death row based on the testimony of an “expert witness” who was completely fabricating his testimony. I find it oddly disturbing that anyone is surprised by this, in fact. Forensic experts have a cottage industry built around doing work for police forces and prosecutors, captive juries who barely understand what they’re saying, and certainly aren’t in a position to question the veracity of their work, and judges who, principally, are concerned with maintaining the system itself. What’s more, the profession has been highly glamorized and put up as infalliable by shows like CSI. It’s good work if you can get it.

The truly outrageous part, however, is this:

West failed Plourd’s test in 2001. Yet as late as 2003, the Mississippi State Supreme Court still upheld West’s bite-mark testimony in a murder case. In rejecting an appeal by convicted murderer and death row inmate Eddie Lee Howard, the court wrote that “Just because Dr. West has been wrong a lot, does not mean, without something more, that he was wrong here.”

It’s not outrageous because it’s so specious actually, it’s outrageous because (with the large caveat that I haven’t double checked the legal standards), it’s probably a correct application of the law. One of the maor reasons I’m against the death penalty is because, in many states, the standard for getting a conviction over turned is “definitive proof of innocence.” That is, while the prosecutor is only required to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, once you’re convicted you have to definitively prove your innocence. Simply undermining facts presented as trial, even facts central to the prosecution’s case, doesn’t do that, so it doesn’t necessarily guarantee you anything. We wouldn’t want too many guilt verdicts being over turnedd, after all, that might make people question the accuracy of the system.

But there’s very little in the way of criminal-justice corruption that can surprise me at this point. And this doesn’t even get to a 5 on the meter.