Thursday, April 15, 2004

Truth, Justice and the American Way

Kevin Drum uses the acquittal of Muslim military chaplain Captain James J. Yee to point out a prosecutorial weakness.

I've read any number of cases where federal prosecutors have spent lots of time investigating someone they were certain was dirty, found out they were wrong, and then, in an apparent fit of pique, proceeded to prosecute the poor schmoe anyway for some entirely incidental and trivial offense. Wen Ho Lee is the most famous recent victim of this kind of treatment. My guess is that in their hearts, the prosecutors in the Yee case are still convinced he's guilty even though the evidence clearly indicates otherwise. It's a common human failing, and one the justice system — both military and civilian — doesn't do enough to rein in.
This cuts to the very heart of the capacity of the adversarial system to deliver justice. Under the adversarial system, the prosecutor is not rewarded for the rendering of justice, but for the successful conviction of cases. Nor is the defense rewarded for the delivery of justice, but for successful acquittal. This isn't a system designed to find the truth or deliver justice; it's gladiatorial combat for bookworms!

However, is it possible to design something better? I suspect not. To place justice in a single set of hands seems more dangerous than having two sets fighting over it.