By Marc Debbaudt
In the words of Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, "a prosecutor should seek justice" when making a decision to file charges. Seeking justice does not mean filing charges when injustice would result. It does not mean filing charges to satisfy political interests or public opinion, or to make a social statement. And it does not mean that a District Attorney's Office should abandon its role as gatekeeper of justice, and pass the buck by filing charges to let the jury decide.
But in California, a bill introduced this year would do exactly that. Assembly Bill 86 seeks to remove District Attorneys’ offices from reviewing police shootings, and from deciding whether criminal charges should be issued. The bill reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of a prosecutor and the administration of justice.
By Matthew B. Johnson and Stephanie Cunningham
The field of wrongful conviction is filled with seeming anomalies: faulty identifications by eye-witnesses, suspects who “confess” to crimes they did not commit, and unreliable testimony from “scientific” experts. As part of our continuing examination of wrongful conviction in rape cases, we have identified another seeming anomaly: innocent defendants who pled guilty to rape.
While a wrongful trial conviction is thought to be a rare and deplorable outcome, the notion of the innocent defendant pleading guilty rather than declaring his innocence at trial seems even more remote. Our examination of a series of such cases illustrates the circumstances that led to such outcomes.
By Deborah M. Golden and Elliot Mincberg
The recent settlements achieved in litigation on behalf of deaf prisoners in Maryland and Kentucky will do a lot inmates in those states. But they should also have important ramifications for deaf prisoners and others with disabilities confined to state and federal prisons across the country.
The treatment of deaf prisoners by government officials across the country has been truly appalling. Some deaf men and women have actually been disciplined for not obeying verbal orders. Their health and safety has been endangered because of the lack of an effective way to communicate emergency and other orders.
By Robin L. Barton
The worst possible outcome in a criminal trial is a hung jury. No one wins.
Both the prosecution and defense must present their cases again. Witnesses must re-testify, which is especially hard on victims who must relive the events once again. New jurors must be selected and hear the evidence anew. To try to avoid a hung jury, the judge may give a jury that says it’s unable to reach a verdict what is often called an “Allen charge,” named after an 1896 U.S. Supreme Court case,Allen v. U.S. In that case, a judge in Arkansas instructed a deadlocked jury in a murder trial “that although the verdict must be the verdict of each individual juror, and not a mere acquiescence in the conclusion of his fellows…they should examine the question submitted with candor and with a proper regard and deference to the opinions of each other.”
By John Hollway
It has been said many times in public scandals that “it’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up.” Our communities understand that humans make mistakes. What they cannot abide is a lack of transparency and accountability from our elected officials.
Many of the current headlines in criminal justice reveal this frustration, but the immediate emotional urge for “heads to roll” often has the opposite effect. It encourages politicians and agency heads to take a “deny and defend” posture when mistakes happen—rather than to admit the error, learn from it, and implement changes to prevent its recurrence.
By Matthew T. Mangino
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter once suggested that Philadelphians who have served their time in prison will no longer be referred to as “ex-offenders”—they will be called “returning citizens.” The executive director of the Office of Re-Integration Services told the Philadelphia Inquirer, at the time, that he hoped the new term would have a “cognitive effect” on those returning from prison.
That is sort of like saying we’re going to call cancer “silly cells” and hope that patients will think they’re not sick. The problem isn’t that people being released from prison are called “ex-offenders”; the problem is that we’ve made it so difficult for ex-offenders to find jobs, homes and opportunity that society almost guarantees failure.
By Roberta Stellick
When I was training to become a police officer in the Madison, Wi., Police Department, I heard one phrase over and over: “customer service.” It may seem odd to think of policing in this way, but it’s a big part of the Madison Police Department’s (MPD) Community and Trust-Based Policing approach.
There have been many times when I could have made an arrest, but chose not to. I determined that an arrest would not help the individual in this crisis moment in his life, nor would I be putting my community at risk by allowing him to go free. MPD officers are encouraged to use our discretion in finding the best possible resolution to a call. We are trained to look at the bigger picture of a problem, and given the latitude to try creative solutions.
By Martin Horn
Criminal sentencing in New York State is opaque and confusing. It is the result of years of ad hoc and piecemeal amendments that have contributed to a sentencing structure in which sentences for violent crimes, sex offenses and drug crimes are determinate, that is, fixed by the judge at sentencing; while those for non-violent offenses are indeterminate, with the date of the inmate’s release determined by the Parole Board.
By William D. Burrell
Research has called into question the effectiveness of other aspects of Megan’s Law, including registration and notification, residence restrictions, enhanced sentences, and revised parole polices. (But as is so often the case, the evidence or lack thereof for the efficacy of a particular public policy has little impact on the longevity of that policy.
One popular policy is lifetime supervision with GPS monitoring. There is some indication that the Supreme Court may join the debate on this issue. The Court recently sent a request for appeal back to the North Carolina Supreme Court with instructions for further consideration and development of a detailed legal record about the case and the issues raised.
By James Doyle
We desperately need jury trials: Their absence is one of an array of developments that has convinced the public—and especially urban minorities—that criminal justice is something that is done to it, not with it, and certainly not for it. The situation in the local justice systems is reminiscent of the situation at NASA in the 1990s that Sidney Dekker describes in his book Safety Differently: Human Factors for a New Era. It explains both how the pressure of caseloads got us to where we are and where that pressure is taking us.