Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Myths Of The Criminal Justice System: Part 2

Radley Balko continues his look a legal misconceptions.

Myth 4: We have appeals courts to check and verify jury verdicts.

Appeals courts review claims that a defendant wasn't afforded his rights under the U.S. Constitution, or the constitution of a particular state. They also review claims that the prosecution or judge did not follow the proper rules of criminal procedure and decide whether those lapses resulted in in an unfair trial. But they almost never second-guess a guilty verdict by reconsidering the evidence.

Myth 5: Due to their position, law enforcement officials are held to a higher standard of conduct than regular citizens.

A strong argument can be made that they're actually held to a lower standard.

Myth 6: Dangerous criminals frequently escape punishment by "getting off on a technicality."

A regular viewer of Bill O'Reilly or Nancy Grace could be forgiven for thinking our criminal courts are heavily stacked in favor of child molesters, drug dealers and cold-blooded killers. In truth, the conviction rate for federal prosecutors is 90-95 percent. For state prosecutors it varies by jurisdiction, but convictions rates generally fall between 60 and 85 percent.

Myth 7: No one confesses to a crime he didn't commit.

False confessions are more common than one might think.

According to the Innocence Project, about one in four convictions that have been overturned by DNA testing involved defendants who at one point had actually confessed to the crime for which they were later exonerated.
Minors and the mentally disabled are especially prone to false confessions, but anyone under considerable duress or who has endured an unusually long or harsh interrogation can be susceptible. Rob Warden and Steven A. Drizin point out in the book "True Stories of False Confessions," an anthology of reports of 48 people who confessed to felonies they didn't commit, the confession often puts a halt to the investigation, even when the confessions "aren't corroborated or don't fit the facts of the alleged crimes."

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