Wrongful Conviction and Imprisonment


Nothing, and I do mean nothing infuriates me more that wrongful convictions.  Whether we’re talking about false allegations of child abuse, murder, or rape, innocent people are being locked away for years — sometimes decades — for crimes they did not commit.  Families are severed, lives are destroyed, and people are being hung out to dry by the very system that was supposed to protect them.  There can be no greater injustice than that.

While the American code of justice demands that the accused be considered innocent unless (or “until”) proven guilty (the presumption of innocence is inherently flawed, but I’ll leave that alone for now), criminal cases involving children and/or highly sensitive issues (such as sexual assault) become so emotionally charged that it is virtually impossible for the accused to receive a fair trial.  As I’ve said before, moral outrage interferes with justice.  And crimes against women and children never fail to evoke a powerful emotional response which threatens to overshadow all evidence and objectivity.  Feelings are substituted for facts, and the burden of proof shifts away from the Prosecution and onto the Defense.  Justice is sacrificed for the sake of vengeance.  In a nutshell, if the crime of which someone is accused involves children and/or rape, they are virtually guaranteed to be denied their right to fair trial.

Yes, I would rather see ten possible baby rapists go free than a single innocent person convicted.

The question is, who should ultimately be held liable for wrongful convictions?  I think the answer to that is quite obvious: whichever parties were responsible for the miscarriage of justice.

A Virginia man spent 27 years behind bars for multiple rapes he did not commit.  These convictions were based solely on eye-witness testimony — that of his alleged victims.  It all began when a woman who claimed to have been raped days before spotted him at a grocery store and alerted police that she recognized her assailant.  Police brought him in, and he was soon “identified” as the attacker of four other women.  (Another of his alleged victims realized she was mistaken after the conviction.)  Now, by no means am I suggesting that rape victims ought to bear the burden of proving their own cases in a court of law, but given the horrific consequences of false rape accusations, they do bear the responsibility of being certain whom they are accusing.  Also, as The Forensic Examiner points out, “Although it may not be ‘politically correct’ to question the veracity of a women’s complaint of rape, failing to consider the accuser may be intentionally lying effectively eradicates the presumption of innocence.”  In this case, the witnesses are clearly responsible — along with the juries which convicted him on the basis of their testimony.  What it ultimately came down to was Mr. Haynesworth’s word against each of theirs, and the juries chose to convict an 18-year-old black man on the legal basis of he-said-she-said.  Unfortunately, you cannot actually sue a jury, and I’m going to assume that it’s faux pas to sue a rape victim, because it appears this gentleman has yet to file any litigation.  (Instead, he settled for a mail-room job from Cuccinelli .)

Just last year, Alton Logan ended up settling with the Chicago Police Department for $10.2 million after having spent 26 years behind bars for a murder.  While it’s difficult to put a monetary value on half a life spent behind bars, I’d say Logan’s lawsuit was appropriate, considering the Chicago Police had concealed evidence which would have exonerated him.  But far more reprehensible was the conduct of defense attorneys Dale Coventry and Jamie Kunz, who knew their client was the real murderer, yet kept this knowledge a secret for 26 years.  Why, then, were they not also sued?  Because they were “legally bound” to do so.

More and more cases of Shaken Baby Syndrome are being re-opened as the integrity of this “condition” is called into question.  (One blogger has liken this “legal diagnosis” to the Satantic daycare sex-abuse scandal mentioned above.)  It’s a valid comparison, really — in both cases, convictions have been based on dubious medical evidence from poorly qualified professionals, as well as on the moral outrage of the jury.  And whatever happened to the “reasonable doubt” clause?  When key witnesses are discredited, diagnoses are questioned, and medical professionals are called to testify outside their area of expertise, you have to wonder whether the jury fully grasps its own purpose.  In wrongful convictions of Shaken Baby Syndrome, as with the ritual Satanic abuse case, I would hold the juries squarely at fault.  But again, you cannot actually sue a jury.

Look, I get that there are reasons for judicial immunity.  It protects both judges and juries from harassment by way of frivolous lawsuit and is intended to keep them objective in their rulings.  At the same time, however, judicial immunity protects them from being held accountable for the ill consequences of their decisions.  When a practice designed to promote objectivity is having the opposite effect, the question of, “Why are we still doing this?” must necessarily be raised.

It’s one thing for circuit judges to be protected by judicial immunity; as professional jurors, they are held accountable by other measures, such re-election or the potential for impeachment and removal from office.  Juries, on the other hand, enjoy their immunity without any of these safeguards in place.  True, they are only there to serve for a single trial, but if anything, I would expect this to make them even more flippant in their decisions.  Compared to judges, juries demonstrate far less foresight and concern over the consequences of their verdicts — and what they might mean for the defendant.  At the end of the day, they’ll go home to their crockpots and ESPN, while the defendant rots in prison for the rest of his life for a crime he appears to have committed.  (The judge, at least, is back on the bench by Monday morning.)

Am I rallying against the use of juries in our judicial system? HELL, no — I’m rallying against irresponsible jurors.

I stand in favor of abolishing judicial immunity for both juries and judges in cases of wrongful conviction — but with some limitations.  Obviously, the “wrongfulness” would first need to be established and the conviction reversed (I mean, how many people in prison are claiming to be innocent?) and another hearing would have to be held (hopefully at the bench!) to determine whether in fact the jury and/or judge were liable, and if so, by what degree.  Then, and only then, would this open them up to civil litigation and/or penalties.

I also want there to be stiffer penalties for false accusation.  When you have women like Crystal Magum being spared charges of filing a false police report, perjury, and obstruction of justice, what kind of message does this send out to would-be accusers?

There also needs to be better accountability for the individual investigators and their superiors.  While I like to think that police corruption is a statistical rarity, it does happen, and not enough appropriate measures (emphasis on ‘appropriate’) are taken.  For instance, it took the city of Chicago nearly thirty years and $56.25 million to finally do something about former police commander Jon Burge.

Convictions based on expert or medical testimony (such as Shaken Baby Syndrome or rape/molestation claims) need to re-examine both the source of the evidence (e.g., a doctor’s credentials and credibility), as well as the integrity of the evidence itself.  Has the doctor who examined the child been trained in pediatrics?  Did the emergency room doctor fully explain “Shaken Baby Syndrome” to the jury or even consider alternative diagnoses?  Is he accustomed to establishing other modi operandi besides SBS?

Now obviously, this isn’t a one-stop, cure-all solution to preventing any new wrongful convictions, nor does this offer sufficient recompense to those who have suffered wrongful imprisonment.  (How can that be compensated?)  But it does provide a starting point for judicial improvement.  Ultimately though, what it comes down to is better accountability within the justice system.  Because even in light of the vast improvements in forensics and genetic technology, it is left to the police to collect the evidence, the DA to make the case, and the judge and jury to determine the defendant’s future.  Objectivity must be paramount, a guilty verdict should not be presumed, and someone needs to be watching the Watchmen.

Aggravated Vehicular Homicide… Over NEWBORNS??


A woman who was allegedly driving recklessly (i.e. she may or may not have been speeding) lost control of her car and is being charge with two counts of aggravated vehicular homicide over the deaths of a couple of newborns — her own newborns.  Oh, and one count (?) of child endangerment.   Can I get a “what the fuck?!”

First of all, despite what media outlets such as The Daily Mail are alleging, investigators have not yet determined whether excessive speed was a factor in the accident.  Considering that the speed limit for the area was 55 mph and the woman was driving over train tracks when she flipped her car, it’s entirely possible that she may not have even been speeding.  (Common sense would tell you to proceed with caution over train tracks.)

Second, in spite of further dishonest statements from both The Daily Mail and sites like NorthwestOhio.com, investigators have not yet said whether the babies were securely fastened into their seats.  Daily Mail is claiming that they were, but that the appropriate (newborn) car seats were not being used; Northwest Ohio claims that “officials have confirmed seatbelts had not been secured.”  Both publications claim to have received their “special information” from authorities, yet according to multiple local news sources, the babies were in car seats, but police have yet to say whether they were properly restrained and the correct car seats were being used.  Ah, the media at its finest.  (The fact that there are dead babies involved means this woman will most likely be found as guilty by a jury as she has been by the press.)

It’s not clear why there has only been one child endangerment charge, but a second charge is pending.  But regardless of the details — which may seem trivial now, though I guarantee they’ll matter come the time of her trial — the fact remains that this woman was responsible for the deaths of her own babies.  Isn’t that enough?  It ought to be.

What right does society have to punish her over the deaths of her own babies?  After nine months of pregnancy and six weeks top-side, this woman has most likely made a pretty hefty investment of time, effort, money, and emotion into these babies — and now all of it is gone in a flash over something she did. To punish her any further would be both excessive and cruel.  To slap this woman with two counts of vehicular homicide (and uno child endangerment) isn’t justice — it’s revenge.

But the core of the issue here is whether or not it is ethical to charge someone with vehicular homicide in the motor vehicle death of an infant.  The answer is a flat-out NO.  Homicide — vehicular or otherwise — entails the killing of a person.  A six-week-old has no more claim to personhood than a human fetus; it fact, it essentially is a human fetus.  To charge this woman with homicide over the deaths of either one or both of these babies is tantamount to saying that a person’s life is of equal (or lesser) value to a non-person’s.  It’s like saying her rights to life and liberty are worth no more than a chiwawas — less even, because even chiwawas (unlike six-week-old humans) have personalities.  It’s evil and it’s insulting.  You may as well claim that a fetus is a person and begin criminalizing “fetal homicide,” with penalties as severe as life imprisonment.  Oh, wait… *facepalm*

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; we need infanticide laws in this country.  But that’s never going to happen so long as abortion is being threatened by ignorance and religiousity — and by those fucking innane feticide laws.

Couple Gets 60 Years for Starving Baby


Sixty years in an outrageous sentence.

Every state has slightly different sentencing guidelines, but for first degree murder, you’re generally looking at about 20 years to life without parole.  For rape, you could be getting up to 20 (or even 30) years.  But 60 years for neglecting a baby is just mind boggling.  As awful as infant and child neglect can be, is it really a worse crime than first degree murder?  The parents of infants who DIE because of mishandling or neglect will typically receive a fraction of this sentence.  Child murderers may receive half this sentence, and child molesters even less!

Don’t get me wrong; what happened to that baby was just terrible, and I sincerely hope these assholes never regain custody of the other children. But they didn’t kill the baby, they weren’t actively trying to kill the baby, and there is no evidence of either of them ever having been violent towards the baby nor anyone else.  They’re not a danger to the public — probably to future children, but that’s for CPS to handle, not the court system.

As heartless as this may sound, moral outrage interferes with justice.  And crimes against infants never fail to evoke a power emotional response (both in the media and on juries) which threatens to overshadow all evidence and objectivity.

These “parents” were young.  Twenty-one years old.  Yeah, it’s no excuse, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t hope for someone to rough them up a bit behind bars.  But to put them away for the next sixty years of their lives — three times the number of years they have even been alive — is far too excessive a punishment.  How does this benefit the victim?  How does this benefit society, which assumes the burden of keeping these people alive?  What “lesson” could these two possibly learn in sixty years that they could not learn in five?  Instead of incarcerating them for the rest of their natural lives, would it not be cheaper, more efficient, and arguably more humane to simply execute them?

This isn’t justice; it’s vengeance.  And it’s a ridiculous sort of revenge, because as soon as these two kids fade out of the headlines, they’re going to be forgotten, while the infant (hopefully) goes on to thrive within a stable, loving family.

Sock Poppet


Can’t quite see this woman as a murdering psychopath.  She could have easily picked a more direct means of offing the babe, but instead she sticks it in a closet with a sock over its mouth, knowing full well that her husband would only be gone for a short period of time?  I’m guessing she was frustrated, mentally ill, depressed, and almost certainly sleep-deprived.

And an attempted murder charge is simply ridiculous.  If she had wanted to kill the baby, I cannot imagine how it would have survived.  Besides, murder is an act which involves killing a person, and a three-month-old baby does not qualify as a person.  This poor woman could be looking at a good 20-25 years behind bars — if not more!  There really needs to be a separate code of infanticide laws in this country, and “attempted infanticide” shouldn’t even be on the books.  (I mean, how fucking hard can it be to kill an infant?!)

If it were up to me, I’d slap her with some general “infant maltreatment” misdemeanor charge, order her to get help, and release the baby to the husband (under CPS’s watchful eye) on the condition that she not be allowed back inside the house until mental health professionals and Child Protective Services agreed it was safe.