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Saturday, April 14, 2007

Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335

I'm sure by now that all four or five people who read my blog are aware of the attention I have given to the Duke Lacrosse Case, where three young men, whose factual innocence is now patently obvious, and has been for some time. Some might even argue that it has bordered on monomania, though to those, I cheerly offer my middle finger. While it is true that I have been deeply concerned about the fact that, in the first decade of the Third Millennium C.E., innocent men can be railroaded and brutally ass-raped by the American justice system to the extent that these young men were, I'm even more deeply concerned about the additional implications this case raised. If these three young men just barely managed, with all of their resources, to avoid their false conviction for a crime that never occurred, what does this say about the average person's chances, especially in states where grand jury testimony is not recorded, as is the case in North Carolina? Furthermore, what does it say about many, if not most, of the criminal justice systems of the several states, where district attorneys, attorneys general, and even judges are elected officials and may be tempted to commit this type of extreme abuse of power in a bid to keep their jobs? These are the questions that have haunted me for the better part of the last year, and I will be haunted until these issues are resolved to the point that this, if not entirely eliminated, becomes extremely rare.

In Gideon v. Wainwright, the SCOTUS ruled that, by virtue of the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States, the state is required to provide lawyers for all defendants in criminal cases. In a small majority of states, this has meant the creation of a Public Defender's system. In my state of Alabama, well, this is newsworthy, and post-conviction representation is questionable at best for death row inmates. Were it not for the Equal Justice Initiative of Alabama and other charitable organizations, plus the less-organized pro bono work done by individuals, my state would be much worse off, even as bad as it currently is. On a wider scale, the plight is taken up by the member organizations of the Innocence Network, of which the Innocence Project is easily the best-known. Other groups do this work as well, but I'm sure by now you get a rather disturbing picture. I ask you not to look down on my state, at how fucked up Alabama can be, but rather, to look in your own back yards, dig around, figure out what's broken there and try to fix it. I have little doubt that you will be as disgusted and disturbed as I was.

I believe, however, one of the core issues is that of an elected justice system. This has a great potential, realized in many known and probably more unknown, cases for justice to be perverted or denied outright to the accused. Put another way, a measure of job security, using evaluations other than that of the voting public, leads to clearer thinking on the part of prosecutors and judges and a greater chance of a fair administration of justice. Toss in proper oversight, including harsh punishments for rogue prosecutors and judges, and I think we can end up a much better nation than we are now. Forgive these musings of a tired mind, but I think it's food for thought.


Sheryl said...

Yeah, a lot of abuses to our Constitution need to be dealt with.

Mandelbrot's Chaos said...

Sheryl, have you ever been inside a prison, not a jail, but a prison? Visited one once on a school field trip. That's why I find this to be such a critically important issue, one which is related to other, more recent concerns such as Guantanimo Bay. Ultimately, a society's goodness is determined by how successfully it strikes a balance between freedom and order, the rights of the accused and the need to punish genuine wrongdoers, and I think we not only can but must do far more than we're doing.

1138 said...

The whole thing kinda puts a big hole in those arguments that the accused has more rights than the victim doesn't it.

Mandelbrot's Chaos said...

Honestly, it all depends on the case, the jury, the jurisdiction, the defense attorneys, and the judge. Toss in the occasional rogue prosecutor as seen in Durham, NC, and elsewhere, and the problem soon becomes obvious. Still, that said, there are severe and glaring problems with the justice system in the United States, and over 40 years after this landmark decision, I find it sickening.