Sunday, November 16, 2008

An Attitude for Conviction

From a societal point of view what is better, conviction or justice? From the prosecutors’ point of view, especially if he or she is elected, what becomes more important to them?

When we are young, we are taught that the police are our friends and that if you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear. In reality, though, this can get you into trouble depending on what attitude your detectives and prosecutors take. Although issues with false arrests and convictions are rare, they do happen and their cause appears more to do with attitude then with incompetence or human error.

In the November issue of Texas Monthly there is a lengthy article called “The Exonerated” that showcases a number of Texans that have had their convictions overturned because of DNA evidence. Almost man for man made the same comment about why – someone on the government’s side was lying and they knew they were.

Christopher Ochoa gave what I think is the most profound statement of them all which should be taught to every 16 year kid before they reach adulthood. It deals with the question of why a person would confess to something they didn’t do?

“Everybody’s taught to drive. And when you are taught to drive, they teach you that if you hit ice or your car starts skidding, ease off the brake and turn into the skid. This has been taught to you and taught to you. Well, what is the first thing people do when they hit and ice patch? They slam on the brake. So now, why do people confess to something they didn’t do? You’re taught to stay quiet and all that stuff, right? But you don’t know. You’re in a tiny room, and they’re telling you if you don’t cooperate, you’ll get the death penalty. What do people expect people to do? They can’t sit there and keep saying “I didn’t do it.” I was a twenty-two year old kid. I had never been in trouble. When I was there, I didn’t know which way was right and which was left.”

If they have justice as their motivator, cooperating is not a gamble, but if it is conviction they desire, then you do so at your own peril. What a terrible quandary to put someone in. You say to them “I would like to help you, but I don’t trust you” at the same time they look at you and know that the last twenty folks to occupy that chair you are sitting in lied to them. "You are lying - you know you did it - confess."

It is a vicious circle only stopped by laws that were enacted to prevent this type of injustice or the character of the DA that oversees the case. That’s too much power to place in the hands of one individual that must defend for his job every few years.

When justice equals convictions our system has failed us.

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