Like many others, I would like to believe that the rash of prosecutorial misconduct that infects our courts today is just the product of overzealous people who sometimes get carried away going after the bad guys. However, I would be believing a lie if I were to say that is what is happening.
No, what is happening is much darker. First, it is true that most people in the system are guilty, and I would not dispute that point. Second, the actual number of truly innocent people is relatively small compared to the truly guilty, and I have no doubt that the “I am a hammer and you are a nail” syndrome takes effect in prosecutorial circles as it would elsewhere in a bureaucratic system.
But the cynicism I have witnessed in cases of actual innocence, from Janet Reno’s false child molestation prosecutions of 30 years ago to Mike Nifong’s cynical pursuit of rape charges against three Duke lacrosse players, charges he knew were false, to what I witnessed in Tonya Craft’s trial in 2010, tells me that something much deeper is happening. Don’t forget that Reno was rewarded by being named U.S. Attorney General (from where she touched off the biggest U.S. Government domestic massacre since Wounded Knee in 1890). Furthermore, when Nifong was spouting off in his interviews and when he was declaring he had no doubt of the players’ guilt, prosecutors across the country lined up in support of him. The forsook him only after he was caught red-handed in a lie during a December 15, 2006, hearing.Interesting. Is the system structured so that prosecutors are free of any meaningful opposition? The use of mandatory minimum sentences make it easy for prosecutors to send defendants to prison without ever having to prove a case against them. A jury trial is a powerful balance against the power of the prosecutor and we would be wise to eliminate the mandatory minimums that have made trials nearly extinct.