OOPS, YOU’RE DEAD

OOPS, YOU’RE DEAD: NYT reports a troubling trend of prosecutors opposing the overturning of capital punishment sentences even when strong evidence of innocence emerges:

A prosecutor was trying to block a death row inmate from having his conviction reopened on the basis of new evidence, and Judge Stith, of the Missouri Supreme Court, was getting exasperated. “Are you suggesting,” she asked the prosecutor, that “even if we find Mr. Amrine is actually innocent, he should be executed?”

Frank A. Jung, an assistant state attorney general, replied, “That’s correct, your honor.”

That exchange was, legal experts say, unusual only for its frankness.

After a trial and appeal, many prosecutors say, new evidence of claimed innocence should generally not be considered by the courts.

While this isn’t as simple as it sounds–obviously, we don’t want to retry cases endlessly–there has to be a better answer than knowingly executing the innocent simply to avoid establishing precedent. Unfortunately, this is just another example of the legal system becoming a game rather than a quest for truth. Prosecutors, especially, should have an obligation to represent society’s interests above all. Ideally, prosecutors would be the ally of defense attorneys who come in with legitimate proof of their client’s innocence. Criminal law isn’t–or, should I say, shouldn’t be–a game. This is hardly the equivalent of a football game where the referee blows a call.

FILED UNDER: Iraq War
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.