Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Justice Served

Over the last couple of weeks, I've been reading John Grisham's nonfiction work, The Innocent Man. It's a legal thriller in the style of his other works, but since it's nonfiction, it has a lot more immediacy. It's a fascinating read about two men wrongly convicted in a brutal killing in 1982 who are eventually released. Grisham paints the District Attorney in the case as the 'bad guy," but the DA has started his own web site refuting much of Grisham's contentions about him. I haven't read through that site yet, but I plan to.

The reason I bring it up is because I was struck by the plight of ANOTHER innocent man apparently railroaded by police in Colorado. Tim Masters was convicted on the flimsiest of circumstantial evidence and no physical evidence. The thing that struck me about these two cases is that I wonder how much of the convictions of the men were based on a sense of closure for the communities. When something brutal or horrific happens, as a society we want some sense of closure, and law enforcement wants that closure as well.

What seems like happens in these cases is that the pursuit of closure gets into way of the pursuit of real justice. And what seems scary is that while it's not common, it also doesn't seem as rare as it should be.


Brian said...

Being a New Zealander, I don't understand a lot of the US culture, so here's a question I've often wondered (based on US TV programs). If the senior police officials (Sherrif and perhaps others) are publicly elected officials, what stops them from exerting influence on police outcomes (as may be the situations you highlighted in your posting) for the personal gain or re-election? How is the system made to be transparent?

Phil said...

Brian, I believe the idea is that if the people of the area decide that they don't like the decisions that an enforcer of the law is making, then they vote him or her out. The people's will is enforced through elections.


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