We Don’t Have a Justice System…

…we have a legal system, and to the extent that it delivers a just outcome is not something inherent in the system. To see why this is so, read this rather distubring article by Radley Balko over at Reason.com. Be advised the accompanying video and pictures are graphic and not pleasant. Here is a teaser,

For most of the last 20 years, doctors Steven Hayne and Michael West have served as expert forensic witnesses for the state of Mississippi. Until 2008, Hayne served as the de facto state medical examiner, dominating a criminal autopsy market in which prosecutors contract out examinations to favored private doctors. West, a dentist, served one term as the elected coroner in Forest County, Mississippi in the 1990s and partly through his work with Hayne became a popular bite-mark examiner among prosecutors.

[…]

When asked how abrasions on Oliveaux’s cheek not present when the video begins could later appear, Bowers answered, “Because Dr. West created them. It was intentional. He’s creating artificial abrasions in that video, and he’s tampering with the evidence. It’s criminal, regardless of what excuse he may come up with about his methods.”

Read the whole thing.

FILED UNDER: Government, Law and the Courts, , , ,
Steve Verdon
About Steve Verdon
Steve has a B.A. in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles and attended graduate school at The George Washington University, leaving school shortly before staring work on his dissertation when his first child was born. He works in the energy industry and prior to that worked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Division of Price Index and Number Research. He joined the staff at OTB in November 2004.

Comments

  1. tom p says:

    I first read about these 2 guys about a yr ago.

    At the time, Hayne, who has never been certified in forensic pathology, was performing the majority of autopsies in Mississippi, some 1,200-1,500 per year.

    As many as 1500 per year??? Let’s do the math, ummm, 1500 divided by 365 equals…uhhhh… 4 autopsies per day!… give the good doctor a little off time, say Sundays cause everybody in Mississippi honors the Lords day and we come up with…. almost 5 per day! The man is a MACHINE! When does he find time to write the reports???? (probably does them in his sleep)

    The National Academy of Sciences is about to release a report documenting the weaknesses of so called “forensic science”. (sorry, the report is not yet on the nets, the AG has it now) Among the most controversial proposals with in it is to seperate forensics labs from law enforcement, because basically, scientific evidence is not supposed to be for the “prosecution” or the “defense”, it is just supposed to be what it is.

    thanx Radley (and Steve)

  2. Anderson says:

    I practice law in Miss., on the civil side, & now have sent Balko’s article around — perhaps it will be another step towards getting these guys booted & in jail. Thanks for the link!

  3. PD Shaw says:

    Among the most controversial proposals with in it is to seperate forensics labs from law enforcement, because basically, scientific evidence is not supposed to be for the “prosecution” or the “defense”, it is just supposed to be what it is.

    That was one of the recommendations made several years ago by the commission charged with investigating why so many Illinois death penalty convictions were erroneous. AFAIK, an Independent State Crime Forensic Laboratory has not been created or at least funded.

  4. Steve Verdon says:

    States don’t want to prosecute these guys because they don’t want the release of every convict whose case touches on such a felon.

    I understand that, problem is that in regards to Hayne and West many of those thousands of “convicts” might actually be innocent.

    I practice law in Miss., on the civil side, & now have sent Balko’s article around — perhaps it will be another step towards getting these guys booted & in jail. Thanks for the link!

    Good work Anderson. Thanks.

  5. legion says:

    This is a consequence of treating Capitalism as the solution to all problems – there are things that simply cannot be done by a free-market system, and anything resembling “justice”, by any definition, is at the top of that list.

  6. tom p says:

    That was one of the recommendations made several years ago by the commission charged with investigating why so many Illinois death penalty convictions were erroneous.

    Yeah PD, and yet I heard on NPR this morn a “law enforcement offical” say that this should not be done because the distance between the “forensic scientists” would become so great that evidence would be “lost” (he said something along the lines of “when evidence is bad, forensics can tell investigators to go back and collect more evidence from the crime scene”) This in spite of the fact that most F evidence is not investigated for months (if at all).

  7. Steve Verdon says:

    legion,

    That was stupid. Don’t do it again.

    And here’s a hint, this wasn’t just a guy trying to corner the market on autopsies in Miss. He also had the help of just about every prosecutor in the state and the State government (which failed to fund a state pathologists post).

    Also, look at tom p.’s and PD Shaw’s comments about the NSA’s work on forensic departments being part of the “law enforcement” establishment.

  8. tom p says:

    We Don’t Have a Justice System…

    Oh, and Steve, we don’t have a “Justice System”, we have a “confrontational law system”. Maybe some of you lawyers out there can weigh in on this aspect of the system…

    All I know is that some years ago a friend of mine got a mob hit man off on something he was definately guilty of because the prosecutors screwed up. Societal costs? Idaknow… He ain’t coming after me, but she has a free hit coming…

    and her husband better watch out.

  9. Steve Plunk says:

    Perhaps an appropriate sentence for these crooks would be to total the time served by those falsely imprisoned and make them serve twice that amount. With awesome power comes awesome responsibility. In this case it should bring awesome consequences as well.

  10. tom p says:

    Perhaps an appropriate sentence for these crooks would be to total the time served by those falsely imprisoned and make them serve twice that amount. With awesome power comes awesome responsibility. In this case it should bring awesome consequences as well.

    Sad to say Steve, it will never happen, they have immunity. While on one level I understand it, on another, I just don’t get it. Point of disclosure: the said “prosecutor” was my long time congressman, who still stands behind the conviction.

  11. Malfeasance and criminality like this can and will occur in any system, whether you want to call it justice or legal or something else. Hopefully, any serious problems can be identified and rectified as quickly as possible. Sorry to keep kicking a dead horse, but there is no such thing as perfection and there never will be for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is we can’t all even agree on what that perfection might look like.

    Our system of justice is flawed and prone to the same frailties that all systems dependent on humans will suffer from, but, as has been noted before, it is still the best one anyone has been able to come up with. It can certainly be improved and I applaud Mr. Balko’s efforts to do so.

  12. Drew says:

    I’m thinking of an appropriate punishment. I have a vision of a red hot poker………

  13. anjin-san says:

    We call it a Justice System, but all we actually have a right to is due process of law, and people do get screwed in the process of due process.

    We certainly need to make every effort to make those who abuse the system and perhaps acquaint them with our prison system.

  14. Wayne says:

    No system is perfect and a big part of our problem is we expect it to be. Should we strive to make it better? Yes but we need to be reasonable about it at all levels including the presentation of evidence. Like science, even though many people may think it is a sure thing, it never is. There are only probabilities. There is a 99.999…. chance that the chair I’m setting in is real and a approximate .0000001 that I’m nuts and laying in a bed somewhere, for general purposes that close enough to 100%.

    In court most of the solid evidence falls in the 80 to 95% certainly. That is just reality but it hard to get convictions since people don’t like any uncertainties even if it is unreal to expect so. Therefore prosecutors, law enforcement, and witness’s present evidence as 100% certain.

    Then there are laws that prevent the introduction of evidence that shows the flaws in certain “so call” scientific evidence which if it scientific it must be 100% accurate (sarcasm). For example, breathalyzers have some inherent flaws but many states prevent that evidence from being introduced in court. Then there are laws that are sneaky backdoor way of convicting people of a crime that there is not enough proof for. Example is laws against drug paraphernalia. I a big anti-drug person but hate these laws. They are design so an officer can make an arrest for a suspected drug user but don’t have the evidence to convict them of a drug crime. A pop can can be considered drug paraphernalia mainly because it can be. However that is too much discretion to give anyone and can easily be abused.