Friday, May 07, 2004

Truth and justice

The Yee case got me thinking about the flaws inherent to an adversarial justice system and if they could somehow be minimized when this article came to my attention. (Read: Jeet was cleaning up his place and he found this old newspaper.)

Andrea Elliott and Benjamin Weiser, "When Prosecutors Err, Others Pay the Price," The New York Times, March 21, 2004.
Misconduct by prosecutors has become a national concern in recent years, highlighted last month in a United States Supreme Court decision to throw out a Texas inmate's death sentence because prosecutors had deliberately withheld critical evidence. In a study last year, the Center for Public Integrity, a group that monitors government ethics issues, reported that from 1970, there had been more than 2,000 cases of prosecutorial misconduct in the United States that resulted in dismissed charges, reversed convictions or reduced sentences.
[C]ritics question whether prosecutors' offices [understate] the seriousness of the problem and the need for more discipline. "It's so infrequent," said Bennett L. Gershman, a Pace Law School professor and former assistant Manhattan district attorney, "that you have to say that these offices have an ethos or culture where they don't want to deter their lawyers from being aggressive, being champions of the victims."
Before I had concluded that it was more dangerous to put justice in a single pair of hands than to have two pair fighting over it. I still believe that and, thanks to this article, now recognize the role that post facto discipline can play in keeping prosecutors in line. However, given that career advancement and pay increases give prosecutors an incentive to be aggressive and take risks, how frequently and strongly must discipline be administered in order to cancel out any incentive to cross the lines into misconduct. And if such effective discipline were in place, would it deter prosecutors from doing their jobs properly?