Paul Craig Roberts
Ronald Cotton spent 11 years in prison because Jennifer Thompson provided eyewitness testimony that he was the person who raped her. On March 9, National Public Radio revisited the story.
It turned out that Thompson was completely wrong, DNA evidence indicated that it was not Cotton but another man who had bragged about the rape.
Thompson asked Cotton for forgiveness, and he gave it. The two became friends and collaborated on a book. On NPR, Thompson said that eyewitness testimony is incorrect 70 percent of the time.
I am familiar with psychological studies that conclude that eye witness accounts are wrong half of the time. That is enough to discredit eye witness testimony as evidence; yet, police and juries always bank on it.
Rape victims tend to be angry, and they want someone to pay. When shown a lineup, they tend to pick someone, naively believing that if it is the wrong person the police investigation will clear them.
Witnesses to crimes who are not themselves victims want to be helpful to the police. Consequently, they also tend to deliver up the innocent to justice.
And then there is the purchased “witness” testimony that prosecutors pay for with money and dropped charges in order to close a case. A favorite trick is to put a “snitch” in the cell with a defendant. The snitch then comes forward and reports that the defendant confessed.
Law and order conservatives think that the only miscarriages of justice are effected by liberal judges and liberal parole boards who can’t wait to release dangerous criminals to prey on the public.
The absurd idea that the justice system doesn’t make mistakes about those it convicts, except when they are let off by liberals, has made it impossible for innocent people wrongfully convicted to be paroled.
To be paroled, a person must admit to his crime and go through rehabilitation. Of course, only the guilty admit their crimes, and so only the guilty qualify for parole. Innocent people tend to maintain their innocence.
A case in point is that of William R. Strong, who has been locked away for a dozen years or more for “wife rape.”
According to people familiar with the case, Strong’s wife had a boyfriend and wanted rid of her husband. She accused him of rape. This was prior to DNA testing, but the perk kit still exists.
Strong comes from a patriotic military family. His father was a colonel and Strong served as a lieutenant and has two college degrees. The family trusted America and the police and the (in)justice system. When advised that Strong would be out in a year if he agreed to a plea bargain, the family, beset with troubles, pressured Strong to accept the deal.
Only it was a double cross. The judge, seeking women’s support, gave Strong 60 years.
That should be enough to wreck marriage in America, or for that matter, heterosexual sex unless there is a signed contract prior to each act.
It seems obvious that Strong was set up, double crossed, and is a threat to no one. Many have recommended his parole. But on February 20 of this year the Virginia Parole Board turned Strong down for the 11th time.
The American criminal [in]justice system is incapable of admitting that it makes mistakes. The criminology bureaucrats claim that those inmates who proclaim their innocence are in denial and, thus, cannot be rehabilitated and, therefore, remain dangerous. In truth, it is the bureaucrats who are in denial and constitute a danger to justice.
Strong’s insistence on his innocence is doubly problematic for him. Although pressured, he agreed to a plea, and it is very difficult to overturn plea convictions. Strong maintains that the DNA in the perp kit is that of the boyfriend, but his plea allows the state to consider the matter closed.
The criminal [in]justice system has nothing to do with justice. It is a massive producer of injustice. The agenda is to clear court dockets and to produce high conviction rates. These high rates are achieved through coerced plea bargains.
Strong still believes in America and that justice will win out. I hope he is right. Law and order conservatives think of the police in god-like terms as “public defenders.”
Conservatives could gain more perspective if they watch some of the videos on YouTube of gratuitous police violence, such as the one of a police officer delivering a brutal beating to a 15-year old girl.
A Google search for YouTube videos of police violence lists 485,000 entries, and these are just the acts captured on camera. How many cops are psychopaths who constitute a greater danger to the public than do criminals? SWAT teams are notorious for breaking down doors at the wrong address and murdering innocent citizens.
Cops are also notorious for framing people as it is easier than doing serious investigation of crimes and collecting evidence. Even the guilty are often framed as that is easier than convicting them on the evidence. Libertarian free market types believe that the private sector can do everything better than the public sector. This ideology causes libertarians to be blind to the dangerous incentives created by the privatization of prisons. On February 12, CBS News reported that two Pennsylvania judges have been charged with sending kids to privately operated detention centers in exchange for $2.6 million in payoffs.
State operated prisons don’t want more inmates. The more inmates the more the work and the more the risk that a judge will intervene because of overcrowding. In contrast, private jails make more money the more inmates they have.
Just think of all the kids whose lives have been ruined by the greedy judges and private prison operators. The judges have been sentenced to seven years on reduced charge plea bargains.
But what about the private prison operators who paid the bribes to have the kids sentenced? Shouldn’t they be put away for life?
The US has the highest incarceration rate and the biggest prison population of any country in the world. With 5 percent of the world’s population, the US has 25 percent of the world’s prison inmates. Recent research by the Pew Center concludes that one in every 31 Americans is in prison or jail or on probation or parole.
So much in America needs to be revamped — the economy, foreign policy, health care and the criminal [in]justice system. Does a country broken in so many ways have a future?
Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury under President Reagan, the Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal and Senior Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University. He is the author of Supply-Side Revolution and the co-author of The Tyranny of Good Intentions : How Prosecutors and Bureaucrats Are Trampling the Constitution in the Name of Justice.