In a perfect world, the criminal justice system would work as follows:
1. Witness tells the police that a crime has occurred,
2. Police thoroughly investigate and make a probable cause based arrest,
3. Prosecutors evaluate whether the police got it right and decide if they want to prosecute the accused person. Then, if the prosecution decides to go forward,
4. Defense lawyer evaluates the evidence, listens to the client, and informs the client whether they should take a plea or push for a trial. Then, if the case goes to trial,
5. Judge plays referee, calling balls and strikes to ensure that the trial is fair.
But, if the police learn that they got the wrong person, they should inform the prosecutor, while continuing the investigation to decide who is the actual perpetrator - or determine if the witness filed a false report. If the prosecutor discovers that the accused is the wrong person, the witness lied, or the police officer lied, the prosecutor should dismiss the case. If the defense lawyer is told by the client that the client is innocent, the defense lawyer should fight like crazy to defend the client.
Unfortunately, we don’t live in a world where any of these steps are carried out in good faith on a regular basis. When police learn that they don’t have probable cause to make an arrest, they CYA. When prosecutors learn of evidence that exculpates the accused, they hide it. And, one judge in Fort Worth literally tortured a defendant during his trial. Worse, that defendant’s lawyer – his zealous advocate - never bothered to object to the judge’s actions.
In the criminal justice system, we all have an obligation to do our jobs to the best of our abilities. When any of the players involved in the system lie, cheat, steal, or nap on the job, we all have an obligation to make sure that their chicanery does not undermine our system.
There is no such thing as “The Law,” as some sort of absolute mandate that is unmovable and solid. Instead, the legal system is a breathing pulsing body that ingests and excretes.
People say that the criminal justice system is broken. I disagree. To say that it is broken requires imagining the system to be a machine or solid object.
I think it is far more accurate to say that the system is deathly ill. When the system eats our neighbors, and through dyspeptic malignant cirrhotic means excretes innocent people into prison or a new type of twisted existence where they are “criminals,” that’s a sick system. That’s a system that disgusts those who are paying attention. During this moment in history, when we have lost faith in the executive and legislative branches, it is essential that the judicial branch, specifically the criminal side, take some medication, get some rest, eat a healthier diet, and start an exercise regimen. Or, drink a glass of Honesty, take two Judicious Restraints, sleep off the Power Trip, and call us in the morning.