Friday, March 11, 2016

Fabricating evidence?


I was very disturbed to read of the collapse of a high-profile criminal case.

In the press, it was a "wide-reaching sex-trafficking operation" run by Somali Muslim gangs who forced "girls as young as 12" to sell sex in Minnesota and Tennessee. In reality, the operation—which led to charges against 30 individuals, sex-trafficking convictions for three, and an eight year legal battle—was a fiction crafted by two troubled teenagers, a member of the FBI's human-trafficking task force, and an array of overzealous officials. An opinion released this week by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals shows that federal prosecuters had no evidence whatsoever to support their "child sex trafficking conspiracy" case outside the seriously flawed testimony of two teenagers, one of whom had "been diagnosed as insane and was off her medication."

. . .

Jane Doe 2's story was likely completely fabricated, with help from a police officer who was also a member of an FBI human-trafficking task force. The officer was later caught lying to the grand jury and lying during a detention hearing, while Doe and the state's other primary witness were, according to the court, almost entirely "unworthy of belief."

. . .

Jane Doe 5 suffers from an undisclosed mental illness and was off of her medication during the trial. "She did not know what day or month it was, she misidentified or could not identify many defendants, she contradicted herself repeatedly (on major issues, such as whether or not she had sex for money), and she argued with counsel over the smallest of details," according to the court.

Ultimately, the judges came away with "acute concern," based on a "painstaking review of the record," that the prosecution's entire case may be "fictitious" and the state's two primary witnesses "unworthy of belief." Both women "repeatedly contradicted, disavowed, and refuted their own testimony," the judges note, "while other portions of their testimony defied belief or were rendered implausible by indisputable contradictory evidence."

There's more at the link.

There are several elements of this case that I find deeply troubling.

  1. There appears to have been an increasing focus by the prosecuting authorities along the lines of "We're in too deep to back out now".  Even when warning signs emerged that their star witnesses might be bogus, the investigators and prosecutors 'doubled down' on their efforts rather than reconsider them thoughtfully and rationally.  Egos appear to have been invested in getting a conviction at any cost.
  2. I'm very familiar with this case, having been living in Nashville while it played out.  I know for a fact it polarized the opinion of a great many people against Muslims in general, being prime material for anti-Islamic propaganda.  Now that it's been demonstrated to be false, will those feelings persist?  Of course they will!  "My mind's made up.  Don't confuse me with the facts!"
  3. The lives of the accused have probably been affected for years to come, if not permanently ruined.  Many people will believe their guilt rather than their now-established innocence.  After all, they were 'convicted' before being released on appeal.  That will show up on Internet searches for the rest of their lives.  Many won't look past the conviction to find out what happened later.

I think the FBI and other investigating authorities have a great deal to answer for in this case.  How many others are there like it?  We'll probably never know.  Coming on the heels of allegations that the FBI may have misled investigators concerning the death of Lavoy Finicum last January, it doesn't fill me with confidence about the quality and integrity of our supposedly 'senior' Federal crime-fighting service.

Peter

8 comments:

Brad Richards said...

"I think the FBI and other investigating authorities have a great deal to answer for in this case."

Yes, but they will never have to...

"How many others are there like it?"

We've all heard of the 'terrorist' cases, where the criminals are mentally-challenged people spurred on by FBI plants. The same thing certainly happens in drug trafficking cases, and others.

There are likely far, far more of these cases that we want to know about, because the incentives are all wrong. Law enforcement agencies ought to be measured on their ability to maintain a law abiding, peaceful society. That's difficult, so instead they are measured on the number of high profile cases they discover and prosecute.

Steffen said...

It's possible the .gov uses their illicit domestic intelligence assets to find actual criminal activity, but it is both inadmissible and unwise to reveal in court.

Kangaroo trials seem like a poor solution though.

Phssthpok said...

This is nothing new. When you're given a hammer, all the world becomes a nail...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wenatchee_child_abuse_prosecutions

Anonymous said...

End judicial immunity for prosecutors and police. It's not in the constitution. Allow them to be sued. That would solve a lot of issues.

Used to be, I think changed recently, only record of an fbi interrogation was fbi notes. And if you disagreed later, you could be prosecuted for lying.

Not to mention the three felony a day issue.

And the police are allowed to lie to you. The end justifies the means.

Plus the militarization of th police.

And unionization.

And an us vs them attitude.


Eric Wilner said...

See also: witch-hunts through the ages. These investigations can take on lives of their own. Look at the utterly insane claims in, e.g., the McMartin preschool case.
I can't offhand find Leslie Fish's account (originally posted on USENET, if memory serves) of the back-story of the "Viper Militia" case, but it seems that one might have been a complete setup, instigated by some poachers playing "report them before they report us" against a role-playing group.
And there are the gross misrepresentations in the current iPhone case....
Lying to judges - deliberately, in writing, and under oath - seems to have become an indispensable tool of modern law enforcement, so fat chance we'll see any .gov employees going to prison for it.

Jonathan H said...

I agree with the above comments - and see it as a big problem for the future of our society; the more law enforcement is seen as the enemy and proved in cases like this to have themselves conducted illegal actions, the more they will not be trusted.
Their reaction so far, to 'double down' (great phrase) with harsher and harsher responses to anyone who questions their narrative, and their collusion with prosecutors and judges, the more their authority erodes and they increase the 'us vs. them' mentality seen not just in urban areas but increasingly all over the country.

Unfortunately, the number of incidents like this and the refusal of law enforcement to clean up its act tars all officers with the same brush and destroys any remaining claim to legitimacy, which will lead to more lawlessness, more crime, and more animosity between citizens and their erstwhile protectors.
I don't like it, but I don't see what can be done about it.

Scott said...

Two words - "Branch Davidians." How many decades ago was that one?

Anonymous said...

Happens all the time .... Especially in cases with great politics. Was involved as an attorney in a federal case involving the ubiquitous roadside "Massage Parlors"; the FBI was certain they'd find underage Korean sex slaves forced to give massages and hand jobs ... only to learn that all of the workers were middle aged Koreans who'd married US Army troops stationed in Korea in order to come over and work in the parlors - which they, the women, also owned. They FBI was sorely disappointed that none of the women engaged in "illegal sex" was under the age of 35!
Drugs, sex, religion - anything that brings publicity. In the early 90's, the favorite federal tactic in drug prosecutions was to try to show the movie "New Jack City" with Wesley Snipes to juries in drug conspiracy cases. At least in the area I was practicing in, there was never such an organized group as in the movie. And each year, there was a bigger group charged, with more drugs than ever. At one point, I asked a DEA agent where was ll the cocaine alleged in the conspiracy - if they were bringing 30 kilos a month to town, we'd be up to our knees in cocaine; he never answered. the reality was that those bringing in the drugs were poor and black and charged in federal court, while the users were rich and white and never prosecuted. But it makes for good publicity, to taint the jury pool and the general public.