I’m not a criminal defense attorney, and I’m over 10 years removed from law school when I had ready access to the statistic I’m going to reference. Things have probably changed, but not that much. Still, the caveat is important, so there; I made it.
Everyone complains, and rightly so, when we hear about an innocent person spending even a month in prison for a crime he or she didn’t commit. We demand all sorts of protective procedures in place to minimize, if not eliminate, such occurrences. We have a privilege against self-incrimination, protection from unreasonable searches and seizures, and even prohibitions against cruel punishments even after we’re found guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
I agree with that high a standard. In fact, I love it. I love knowing I won’t go to jail for a crime I didn’t commit. I also love knowing that I won’t be beheaded if I decide to jaywalk some day. The result is that, relatively speaking, virtually no one faces such dangers. Wrongful convictions represent a very small percentage of the convictions that occur, and almost all of those wrongful convictions took place a long time ago. As we progress as a society — legally, socially, and technologically — that number is approaching zero. Yet, we still snobbishly complain that it isn’t at zero yet. Again, I agree with this attitude and expectation of perfection despite how unrealistic it is. The day we stop striving for it is the day we accept totalitarianism into our lives.
However, in line with our American sense of entitlement, we seem unwilling to accept the consequences of that standard. Case and point: The Casey Anthony trial.
I haven’t followed the trial, but from what I’m hearing, she’s almost certainly guilty, just like O. J. Simpson in the 90′s. Nevertheless, she walked, and justice will never really be had for her child. This is a direct consequence of the procedures that you so eagerly demand. You simply can’t have one without the other.
For those that claim that the prison system is loaded with people that aren’t actually guilty, I point them to the fact that 95% of the people that are in prison plead guilty to get there (as I said, an old statistic that may have changed). They admitted they were guilty in exchange for receiving a lighter jail sentence than their actual crime demanded. That is, at least 95% of those that are in prison are getting off easier than they should. Again, this is a consequence of the difficulty associated with getting a conviction. Prosecutors would be more than happy not to offer any deals if they thought they could actually get convictions via a jury trial. The remaining 5% must be exceptionally clear cases of crimes for them to even have had to go to trial, and still there are plenty that are found not guilty (about 20% in federal cases; no idea about state cases).
As I told my cousin, Kessel Junkie, I have no problem with his paternally-induced sense of anger he feels right now. I’m not a father, and I’m not happy that yet another murderer goes free. However, when we cool down from this initial anger, we need to stop being such elitists who think we’re entitled to a perfect world. Either accept a totalitarian state or get over the consequences of not having one. Rights don’t exist for when times are easy. They exist for when times are hard. This is one of the hard times.