Interesting Links: May 28, 2015

Here are links to some interesting news articles that I came across today. They are mainly about the dismal state of criminal justice in the USA. While authors of the linked articles seem to think it can be reformed, I believe otherwise.

Link 1: Orange County Prosecutor Misconduct Implicates District Attorney

Prosecutorial and police misconduct are often dismissed as just a few bad apples doing a few bad apple-ish things. But what happens when it’s entrenched and systemic and goes unchecked for years? That looks to be the case in Orange County, California, where the situation got so completely out of hand this spring that Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals issued an order disqualifying the entire Orange County District Attorney’s Office (that’s all 250 prosecutors) from continuing to prosecute a major death penalty case. After literally years of alleged misconduct involving jailhouses informants, as well as prosecutors’ repeated failures to turn over exculpatory material, Judge Goethals determined in March that the office can simply no longer work on the case of mass murderer Scott Dekraai, who pleaded guilty last year to killing his ex-wife and seven others at a beauty salon in 2011.

All this is happening right up the road from Los Angeles, home of one of the most massive jailhouse informant scandals in history. In 1989, in an infamous interview with 60 Minutes and an explosive piece in the Los Angeles Times, former jailhouse snitch Leslie Vernon White demonstrated how he fabricated the confessions of other inmates, then leveraged them for reduced sentences. The White revelations led to a grand jury investigation that revealed that jailhouse snitches often lied, and that police and prosecutors—knowing they were lying—used them anyhow. L.A. has since enacted significant reforms of its jailhouse informant policies. Not so Orange County. And both the scope and scale of the Orange County shenanigans are remarkable.

In an explosive moment following a hearing last year, Sanders revealed that the Orange County Sheriffs Department has maintained a massive, secret, 25-year-old computerized record-keeping system called TRED. These TRED documents were full of potentially exculpatory data, but the agency officials had systematically refused to turn any of them over, or even acknowledge their very existence, to defense counsel.

Link 2: Georgia Court Prosecutors Cut all Black Jurors out of Death Row Trial

The prosecutors seeking to send Timothy Tyrone Foster to death row went about their job in a curious manner. During jury selection, they highlighted each black prospective juror’s name in green—on four different copies of the jury list—and wrote that the green highlighting “represents blacks.” On each black juror’s questionnaire, prosecutors circled the response “black” next to a question about race. They also referred to three black jurors as “B#1,” “B#2,” and “B#3” in their notes. Finally, the prosecution’s investigator ranked each black juror against the others—in case “it comes down to having to pick one of the black jurors.” The prosecutors struck each black candidate, one by one, from the jury pool until none remained.

Because it’s so difficult to prove a state of mind, the Supreme Court has gradually allowed judges to look for clues that prosecutors struck jurors on account of their race. In one case out of Texas, the court cried foul when prosecutors used their peremptory strikes to exclude a stunning 91 percent of eligible black jurors at the trial of a black man. The court also noted some of the tricks the Texas prosecution used to keep blacks out of the jury. When a number of blacks sat toward the front of the room where the jurors were being chosen, for instance, the prosecutor “shuffled”—that is, rearranged where the candidates sat. Prosecutors usually evaluate potential jurors at the front of the jury panel first, so people toward the back are more likely to be dismissed. The prosecutor clearly shuffled the jury to move blacks from the front to the back. Somehow, this is legal under Texas law.

Link 3: The Myth of the Hero Cop

The second is the bevy of special laws around the country that are designed to shield police officers from the very tactics the police regularly use on ordinary suspects. For example, in most states, law enforcement officers cannot be questioned until they have been given a few days to get their stories straight. And many states have passed laws—such as Section 50-a of New York’s Civil Rights Law—that are specifically designed to make it almost impossible to obtain or use at trial records of a police officer’s prior brutality or misconduct. These two factors can make convicting police officers extremely difficult, and it is no accident; it is the direct result of the sustained effort by police unions to protect officers from even the most deserved discipline or prosecution.

The hero cop narrative is also belied by the facts. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, police work does not crack the top-10 list of most dangerous jobs. Loggers have a fatality rate 11 times higher than cops, and sanitation workers die in the line of duty at twice the rate that police do. Yes, police officers are sometimes shot and killed, but this is a fairly rare phenomenon. Indeed, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, of the 100 officers killed in the United States in the line of duty in 2013, far more crashed their cars or were hit by cars than were shot or stabbed. In fact, if you compare the murder rate among police officers with the murder rate in several American cities, you find that it is far safer to be a NYPD officer than an average black man in Baltimore or St. Louis.

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