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The canard of “I will never forget that face”

Mar 16, 2009 The canard of “I will never forget that face”

Imagine the dissonance felt by the victim of a serious crime not to be able to identify the perpetrator. If the perpetrator is not found and convicted, the victim may feel that the victim has been let down, the police have been let down, the victim’s family has been let down, and the public has been let down, leaving the the perpetrator free to perpetrate again. The same can be said for witnesses of a serious crime.

In the victim’s and witness’s time of shock, upset and fragility, a reassuring and calm investigating police officer arrives, to listen calmly not only to the essential facts, but to the victim’s or witness’s angst, fear and concerns, to help gain trust in the police officer. The police officer — particularly in today’s troubled economy — knows that notice will be taken if s/he is not making "enough" arrests and convictions, which is one of the reasons that many police officers want to resolve cases and to do so quickly so that they have time for their other work. A cop does not need to be dishonest to obtain a conviction of an innocent person. All s/he needs to do is to lack thoroughness, ability, diligence, intelligence, sufficient supporting resources, or the willingness to stand up to superiors, colleagues and members of the public who complain that the investigating cop is dragging his or her feet.

Innocent suspects become victims in the rush to investigate without precision, ability, scruples, absence of racism, or essential resources; the rush to solve crimes; the rush to judgment; and the rush to sentencing and imprisoning. Cops and prosecutors have a dizzying work pace, with all the drug transactions and drug possession flying left and right, assaults, burglaries, robberies, and murder. Innocent people will continue being prosecuted and convicted at alarming rates until the criminal justice system is radically overhauled to have the best, most honest, and most ethical police, prosecutors, and judges focused on achieving true justice rather than on achieving arrests, convictions, coercive guilty pleas, and harsh sentences. The criminal justice system is too overgrown, too expensive, and too disorganized to achieve the latter goal until the criminal justice system legalizes marijuana, heavily decriminalizes all other drugs, eliminates mandatory minimum prison sentences, and repeals the death penalty. It will also help tremendously to eliminate the draconian system that treats as criminals people with a 0.08 blood alcohol level, Once the criminal justice system is thus changed, we will not only have the resources and ability to have a better and more just criminal justice system, but we also will be further on the road of having a criminal justice system in which more people have faith, and a criminal justice system that is less expensive and, therefore, much less of the current immense strain on troubled government budgets.  

We hear all the time about innocent people getting convicted based on faulty identification through visual observation, fingerprints, and other means; and based on false confessions coerced without the need for beating, and sometimes without the need for a cop even to aim a handgun at the suspect, but instead to engage in psychological warfare. slickness, and physical discomfort (for instance, not letting an exhausted person sleep until confessing, or putting the suspect in an uncomfortable, stinky, suffocating room that is too cold or hot or too damp or drafty).

Although DNA testing has finally become common for proving the innocence of many convicted people, it was not always that way. Enter Kirk Bloodsworth, who was wrongfully convicted for raping and murdering a child, and was not exonerated by DNA testing for eight long years after he originally was sentenced to death. His lawyer Robert Morin — now a judge on the District of Columbia Superior Court — fought for years to have a DNA test performed. Finally, the test was performed, and exonerated Mr. Bloodsworth, who was then released from his Maryland prison, and who now advocates to free the innocent convicted.

DNA testing, however, cannot exonerate all innocent suspects. A perpetrator’s DNA might most commonly be left through semen resulting from a rape, but such DNA evidence is not left by a killing by shooting, by theft over the Internet, nor by a hand-to-hand drug deal. Consequently, too many innocent people continue getting convicted. getting thrown into prison, and having their lives destroyed in the process.

How can Kirk Bloodsworth recover his lost years in prison? How can he recover the attack on his dignity that was epitomized by his being housed one floor below the gas execution chamber, and then reportedly being brought there one day by guards to paint the chamber, with one of the guards proclaiming: "‘You’ll be the captain soon’ … ‘We want to get it ready for you.’ … ‘Take a good look, Captain Kirk. … Paint it up. Make it nice and prime for your bad ass.’" Around 2003, a suspect was charged with the crime for which Bloodsworth was exonerated, and ended up pleading guilty.

It takes honesty, courage and compassion for a crime victim to admit that s/he fingered the wrong suspect, and even more great qualities to spread the word nationwide. Praised be Jennifer Thompson for doing so with Ronald Cotton, the man convicted of raping her after Thompson picked him out from an identification lineup after piecing his identify from a composite police identity kit. Too many excruciating years passed before Cotton was exonerated through DNA testing. Ultimately, another man who looked very similar to Cotton was convicted of the crime. See the 60 Minutes coverage on Cotton’s ordeal and on false identification of criminal suspects, here and here. Thanks to a fellow listserv member for posting on this 60 Minutes segment.

Kirk Bloodsworth talked to the cops, who said that Bloodsworth said he had done something bad that would harm his marriage, and mentioned blood on a rock. Had Bloodsworth asserted his right to remain silent with the cops, very possibly he would have been acquitted in the first place.

Would you get into the ring with Mike Tyson, bet your house on a one-on-one game with Michael Jordan, or gamble in poker against John Scarne? If not, then why on earth would you talk to the cops if you are or might be a suspect? Against the cops, you are severely mismatched from the get go. Remain silent (other than — when not free to leave — to tell them who you are, unless you wish first to analyze Hiibel), and do not discuss the substance of the case with anyone until you get a lawyer, even if it takes time to get the lawyer. Don’t take my word for it; watch this video. Jon Katz

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