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Sunday, December 16, 2007


The injustice system

All all-too-typical story:
There was one major problem with the Santa Clara County crime lab report that implicated a San Jose man of sexual assault:

It wasn't true.

The document was a fake, created by a San Jose police detective. The crime lab analyst who purportedly prepared the document doesn't exist. The number used to identify it was false.

Even so, detective Matthew Christian testified as though the phony report were authentic.

The case unraveled when the defense attorney sought the résumé of the lab analyst, only to learn there was no such person. Christian then remembered that he had concocted the report in an attempt to trick the defendant, Michael Kerkeles, 54, into admitting that he had forced a developmentally disabled neighbor into sexual acts. It was an acceptable tactic. But Christian said that by the time he was called to testify, more than a year later, he had forgotten the ruse.
Yeah, sure, he "forgot," then "remembered" when the defense attorney questioned the fake report. And notice the "it was an acceptable tactic" line, which comes not from the cop or the D.A. but from the reporter, a simple statement of "fact." Not that the cop said something like, "listen, buddy, we've got the goods on you so you'd better confess," but actually typed up a false crime lab report. And then, after confronting the defendant with it (and evidently not producing a confession, or there wouldn't have been a trial), not destroying it, but leaving it in the files.

We all know about cops fabricating and planting evidence. But the "officers of the court," the prosecutors, are no better:

Stringfield [the D.A.] said in an interview last week that she had paid scant attention to the real report, because it did not help her case. During that interview, she blamed Kerkeles' defense attorney for not exposing the discrepancy between the two reports, both of which had been provided to the defense.
This, of course, is the essence of the injustice system. The job of the prosecution isn't to find the truth, it's to convict the defendant. The fact that they know of exculpatory evidence? Not their job to mention it; if the defendant is poor and can't hire the best attorney, or if the defense attorney just happens to slip up, too bad.

And do note that this isn't just any old case, but a sexual assault case. Why do I mention that? Because in the United States in the 21st century, a conviction on a sexual assault case is almost guaranteed to damage a person for life. They might find themselves limited to living in some rural county, or even ordered by the government to live under a bridge. A conviction on a sexual assault case, almost as much as a death penalty conviction, has very serious consequences.

But in the U.S. injustice system, there's only one consequence that matters to the prosecution - a conviction, obtained by any means necessary. Try to remember that the next time someone tells you how they're sure that Mumia Abu-Jamal is guilty.

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