“Innocence Deniers”

Lara Bazelon in Slate this month describes the unique role of the prosecutor in the criminal justice system – “is not that [they] shall win a case, but that justice shall be done.” (Berger v. United States) She then calls out those prosecutors who don’t accept that role, who are “innocence deniers”:

“These prosecutors do not “do justice” as the Supreme Court defines it. Instead, they delay justice and in some cases actively work against it. When a prisoner is exonerated by a lower court, these prosecutors double and triple down, filing appeal after appeal. Or they indict and prosecute the exoneree all over again, sometimes under a wildly different theory at the expense of time and resources that should be used to pursue the crime’s actual perpetrator. They may also threaten endless legal challenges to wring “no contest” pleas from innocent prisoners in exchange for time-served sentences. The prisoners, desperate to be free, accept these Faustian bargains, which brand them convicts for life and allow prosecutors to proclaim their guilt and the state to deny them compensation. Some prosecutors are so committed to adhering to the original mistake that they fail to prosecute the actual perpetrators, even when there is evidence to convict them.”

In addition to listing a number of prominent examples of this phenomenon, Bazelon goes on to point out a little-discussed problem with innocence denying:  the real criminals go unpunished, posing a threat to public safety. According to the Innocence Project, 353 people have been exonerated by DNA evidence since 1989. The group has identified 152 actual perpetrators in those cases who went on to commit “150 additional violent crimes,” including rape and murder.

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