Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Heads should roll for this - but they probably won't

The Washington Post reports that the Justice Department did not inform convicted felons that the evidence used to convict them may have been flawed.

Officials started reviewing the cases in the 1990s after reports that sloppy work by examiners at the FBI lab was producing unreliable forensic evidence in court trials. Instead of releasing those findings, they made them available only to the prosecutors in the affected cases, according to documents and interviews with dozens of officials.

In addition, the Justice Department reviewed only a limited number of cases and focused on the work of one scientist at the FBI lab, despite warnings that problems were far more widespread and could affect potentially thousands of cases in federal, state and local courts.

As a result, hundreds of defendants nationwide remain in prison or on parole for crimes that might merit exoneration, a retrial or a retesting of evidence using DNA because FBI hair and fiber experts may have misidentified them as suspects.

In one Texas case, Benjamin Herbert Boyle was executed in 1997, more than a year after the Justice Department began its review. Boyle would not have been eligible for the death penalty without the FBI’s flawed work, according to a prosecutor’s memo.

There's much more at the link.

I could hardly believe my eyes as I read the report. The Justice Department's excuse for not informing convicted suspects or their attorneys was mind-boggling:

Justice Department officials said that they met their legal and constitutional obligations when they learned of specific errors, that they alerted prosecutors and were not required to inform defendants directly.

So they let a potentially innocent man be executed because they'd done the legal minimum, and weren't required by the letter of the law to do more? They allowed perhaps hundreds of convicts to continue serving harsh prison sentences, merely because it wasn't their job to alert their lawyers to flaws in the evidence used to convict them - flaws so great that they might have exonerated them?

How do these people sleep at night?

If a bureaucrat didn't care that a potentially innocent man had been executed because of the former's lack of interest in ensuring that he received justice - particularly given that the bureaucrat worked for the Department of Justice - what does that say about his (lack of) conscience? "It wasn't my job!" "I was just doing what I was required to do!" Did they really think that prosecutors' offices, having obtained the convictions they sought, would put their own reputations on the line by admitting to defendants and judges that they'd got it wrong?


Ever heard of 'functional myopia' in an organization? This is an absolutely classic example of it . . . and it may have resulted in at least one innocent man being judicially murdered, not to mention others being incarcerated for years. Heads need to roll for this. Also, everyone still incarcerated on the basis of flawed evidence needs to get at least a re-trial, yesterday if not sooner. This is a miscarriage of justice on a truly vast scale.



Sherm said...

It's the Department of Justice. Note that "department" is the first and, therefore, most important part of the name. Justice is only of secondary importance. Bureaucracy ensures that anyone thinking otherwise will not thrive and progress.

Aphael said...

"How do these people sleep at night?"

Their victims are outside the monkeysphere. In the absence of any personal sense of professionalism (which seems to be in generally short supply at the JD), it's easy to see how they don't care.

Chris said...

As long as the written PROCESS is followed, no harm, no foul. "We followed procedures" is the modern law enforcement equivalent of "following orders". And since it is quite rare for anyone in law enforcement, from Barney Fife types to the Attorney General to pay a price for misbehavior, there is no feedback for inaction like this. As I like to say, "A bureaucrat is someone who can read but not think."

Jess said...

I'm guessing they've adopted procedures like the GSA.