He’s colorful throughout, but the end put me in stitches! (Of course, I’m so mostly glad that those three women were able to escape that monster. More details about the horrifying case are here.)
This is an amazing story of a lone juror who refused to convict a black man of rape based on flimsy evidence, despite pressure by the prosecutor. The actual rapist confessed to the crime a few months later. (I’ve left the spelling and grammatical errors as is.)
In 1994 I was called to be a jury in a rape case. A black man had supposedly attacked a young woman in a park, and raped her. He was apprehended by the police only hours later and faced up to 30 years in jail (including aggravated assault). I received the letter one morning and immediately was angry at it as it would waste much of my time in the coming months. However, I have a strong sense of honor, and felt it was my duty.
The interview was kind of weird. After the first questions by the judge, both parties went to ask questions about me and my opinions. First, the defendant had a public defendant who asked me almost no questions (for those not familiar with the law, with a jury trial, both parties select jury members according to strict rules). The prosecutor was very direct and, in my mind, completely unethical. He asked me some VERY direct questions. It went something like this:
PROSECUTION: Hello sir Glad to see you here. In your mind, do you think the defendant is guilty or not? ME: Uhhhh… I don’t know, I didn’t hear all the case details… PROSECUTION: Yes, but considering he was arrested by the police and they have a whole file on him… ME: I will wait to see the whole file on him.
At this point, I understood something. If I acted like I was racist, surely would they dismiss me from being part of the jury!! I thought about it for a second, thought about the month of underpaid work I’d saved, and decided it was worth a shot.
PROSECUTION: Consider the defendant. Do you think his ‘situation’ make him more likely to commit this crime? ME: Huhh… I don’t know… PROSECUTION: A poor woman was viciously attacked, beat and raped. I think we can both agree it was a horrible crime? ME: Yes, absolutely. PROSECUTION: She described the man exactly as he is standing there. He was arrested and interrogated by the police. Do you agree this man might have committed this crime? ME: Yes, I do. PROSECUTION: What is your view on black people? ME(lies): Not particularly dislike them, but not particularly like them. PROSECUTION: Explain? ME(lies): They are human and they have a right to live, but I don’t see them exactly like us.
The prosecution party seemed satisfied of the answers. Keep in mind this was in front of the judge and at this point I was 100% sure I would be dismissed, with a “RACIST” tag over my head forever.
Not at all.
I was informed a bit later, to my great surprise, that I would be part of the jury. If I could describe the case in one word, it would be: “long”. It was terribly long. Hours and hours passed, hours became days and days became weeks. Then, each parties had its final hearing. To my surprise, the public defendant was doing a very decent job in front of the prosecution party.
Then, we went inside, all 12 of us, to discuss.
I had made my mind close to the end of the trial. He was not guilty. There was definitely not enough evidence to convict him. The woman had given (a really tearful) testimony but admitted she couldn’t identify him. The police, after a few questions, had to admit they had no prior file of this man. An expert psychiatrist, hired by the defense, said the man was “happily married with childrens and unlikely to commit that kind of crime. But what really helped me make my mind was when the police admitted they had no DNA evidence at all (which was kind of new at the time). However, the police had a signed confession (which I supposed coerced) and the women had identified a mark the defendant had on the bottom of the neck. Also, he had no alibis and was, to his admission, “walking around at the time”. Finally, a witness supposedly saw a man running away with the same clothes as the defendant.
The jury hearing looked like it would last less than an hour. By the 45-minutes mark, most jury member had made their minds: he was guilty. By the 1h15 mark, all jury members decided he was guilty.
Except for me.
I still wasn’t convinced. I told them I would say he was not guilty. Everyone sighed. “For christ-sake this is the 5th time we vote, I think it’s time we decide already”. We kept talking, and one jury member even got mad: “ARE YOU SAYING THE 11 OF US ARE WRONG? Look at us, there are women and men alike here. This guy IS guilty.” One even told me I was a “nigger-defendant” which made me doubt of the composition of the jury.
The day ended and we all went home.
I spent the night without sleeping. In the morning, I was even more sure: he was not guilty. And then came the second day, long as hell. A fat man became seriously mad and asked to get out (which he couldn’t). I could feel, at the end of the day, that they were all mad at me.
Then came the third day and the 1235235th vote. Again, we failed to reach consensus. They all guessed who voted not guilty. Then, one man flipped out.
MAN: Look out son. I don’t know what your freaking problem is… We have his confession. The woman identified him. A FREAKING WITNESS SAW HIM! What the fuck do you need? ME: I am not convinced by any of the evidence.
Then, things became weirder. The prosecution attorney came to talk to me. To my surprise, he was very kind to me.
PROSECUTION: Hey sir,I heard you thought the defendant was not guilty? ME: WHAT??? Sir, this is supposed to be confidential! PROSECUTION: And it will. Behind us. Sir, I just want to tell this: twenty police officers worked on it. Twenty. I wouldn’t take a man to trial without the absolute proof he is guilty. ME: Thanks… I will consider it…
But I already made up my mind. Fourth day passed and at this point no one was talking. At the end of the fifth day, the judge made us all appear in front of us. Every jury member was looking at me.
JUDGE: Has the jury reached a verdict? CHIEF JURY: No, your honor. JUDGE (really surprised): Do you need more time to reach a verdict? CHIEF JURY: No, your honor. JUDGE: You… You don’t think you can reach a verdict? CHIEFT JURY: No, your honor.
Everyone in the audience sighed. Not one second I put my head down. After a couple of days, a hung jury verdict was given. And everything was to be started again. My life took a turn to the worst, I was bullied, intimidated in my life. My car was frequently arrested by patrolling police officers for no reason. I started to think about moving out.
Two months later, before the new trial began, a man confessed to the crime at a police station. He was also black, although looked nothing like the first man, even in terms of weight/height. He gave a crying confession to which he admitted everything. Then, he gave details that were kept private (not shared with any outsider) and that he could in no way know unless he was the perpretator of the crime. He said he followed the long trial, and was tortured thinking about everything that happened. When the woman saw him, she immediately said it was him, and I had the feeling police told her it was the first black man who did it.
Later on he was convicted, served a prison time, and was released after many years. Sorry to make this so long. AMA.
I’m floored that this guy was selected for the jury despite expressing racist sentiments. I’m even more floored that the prosecutor attempted to pressure him into changing his vote during deliberations. Surely, that’s waaaay out-of-bounds, right?
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This news story is just flabbergasting:
A Dollar General employee arrested in Wrightsville [Georgia] last week for hitting a child with a belt has now been charged with two felonies, aggravated assault and cruelty to children. The charges were upgraded from simple battery because according to the police chief, store video shows the woman hitting the 8 year old at least 25 times.
… Wrightsville Police Chief Paul Sterling said [the child] Logan was running around in the store and got into a confrontation with [the employee] Bell, 39. Bell told investigators that Logan threw a cookie at her and that’s when she removed her belt, chased the boy down and spanked him behind the counter.
It’s bad enough for a parent to spank his own children, let alone to beat a child with a belt 25 times. (I discussed why on Philosophy in Action Radio in this June 2012 segment: Corporal Punishment of Kids.) It’s sheer insanity for a stranger to do that, and I’m glad that it’s being prosecuted as a serious crime.
The incident reminds me of an exchange that I had with an older check-out lady at Wal-Mart a few years ago. I was buying a really thick and heavy wooden spoon. (I needed it down in the barn to prepare food for the horses.) On scanning the item, the woman fondly remarked that she used to beat her children with such a spoon in order to “teach them respect.”
I was floored. My shock wasn’t so much due to the fact that she’d done that, as I certainly know that many parents still beat their children as punishment. I was shocked because she saw fit to gloat about it to a perfect stranger. She was completely unaware that anyone might be morally opposed to beating children, let alone doing so with a heavy wooden spoon that could only cause severe pain.
I replied that I didn’t think that parents needed to beat their children to teach them respect. I wish that I’d said more. Perhaps I should have even spoken to the manager. But at the time, all that I wanted to do was take my wooden spoon and leave!
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In the Rapid Fire Questions of the June 24th episode of Philosophy in Action Radio, I answered a question on the exclusionary rule. Obviously, I’m not any kind of legal expert, but I’m highly suspicious of (1) excluding relevant facts from a criminal trial and (2) discouraging rights-violations by impairing the prosecution of the criminal, rather than by punishing the culpable government official. Hence, I doubt that the exclusionary rule is the proper remedy for illegally-obtained evidence.
William E. Perry — my friend and, more relevantly here, former Arizona prosecutor — sent me the following brief comments in e-mail. I found them quite interesting, so I’m reposting them here with his permission.
Greg talked about planting evidence. That is rare and should be harshly punished. The main problem is failure to follow the 4th amendment by searching without probable cause, or failing to get a warrant when required when obtaining physical evidence. To be fair to the police, the rules are sometimes arcane and complex. However, violations can be dealt with in three ways. The first is by job discipline, up to and including termination. The second is by lawsuits with monetary damages awarded to the victim of the illegal search. The third is by criminal prosecution. Greg mentioned an ombudsman. I would set up a special prosecutor’s office with lawyers and investigators. There would have to be specific laws passed for them to enforce. The evidence would be admitted regardless of the violation.
The second category of violations is in questioning of suspects. Diana has discussed that at length previously when talking about confessions. The same three remedies can be applied for violations. There is already a set of rules for admissibility with statements, although Miranda violations could be handled differently then they are. In any case there is a two step process for determining voluntariness. The first is by the trial judge, and the jury is also required to find the statement to be voluntary before considering it. (Although I’ve never known of a jury rejecting consideration of a statement by a defendant on voluntariness grounds.) Since I think this has more to do with the risk of false confessions I would argue that this type of violation should be punished as above, but that the current law should still be applied as to admissibility.
My prior discussion of coerced confessions can be found here. (That was such a fun research question for me, and I really benefitted from William’s help!)
William is absolute right to distinguish between illegally obtained physical evidence and illegally obtained confessions. The former should not be excluded from trial, while the latter should be excluded. Both, however, should be prosecuted as serious rights-violations when done willfully. The government’s agents of justice should not be above the law.
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The Supreme Court on Monday ruled by a 5-to-4 vote that officials may strip-search people arrested for any offense, however minor, before admitting them to jails even if the officials have no reason to suspect the presence of contraband.
Here’s the case that was brought to the Supreme Court:
The Supreme Court case arose from the arrest of Albert W. Florence in New Jersey in 2005. Mr. Florence was in the passenger seat of his BMW when a state trooper pulled his wife, April, over for speeding. A records search revealed an outstanding warrant based on an unpaid fine. (The information was wrong; the fine had been paid.)
Mr. Florence was held for a week in jails in two counties, and he was strip-searched twice. There is some dispute about the details but general agreement that he was made to stand naked in front of a guard who required him to move intimate parts of his body. The guards did not touch him.
“Turn around,” Mr. Florence, in an interview last year, recalled being told by jail officials. “Squat and cough. Spread your cheeks.”
“I consider myself a man’s man,” said Mr. Florence, a finance executive for a car dealership. “Six-three. Big guy. It was humiliating. It made me feel less than a man.”
The question before the courts was whether routine strip searches of all inmates — as opposed to strip searches just in cases of suspected contraband — constituted an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment. Alas, the court decided that the routine searches were fine and dandy… and yes, that means strip searches for people merely accused of petty offenses.
I wonder: If it’s “reasonable” to be repeatedly forced to expose your private orifices to corrections officers, even before you’re ever convicted of the most petty of offenses, then what would possibly count as “unreasonable”? Nothing, I suspect.
(Hat Tip: The Agitator.)
P.S. That’s damn depressing news, so if you want to go crawl back into bed, go read this awesome satire from the Borowitz Report.
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In my recent Philosophy in Action Webcast discussion of the death penalty, I mentioned Craig Biddle’s discussion of the fact that rights are inalienable but forfeitable. As promised, here’s footnote 46 of his excellent essay, Ayn Rand’s Theory of Rights: The Moral Foundation of a Free Society
… If rights were somehow inherent in man by virtue of his being man, then we could never punish people who violate rights–because using retaliatory force against them would violate the “rights” that they “inherently” have and that they thus always retain by virtue of being human. Because Rand’s theory is based on and derived from the observable requirements of man’s life, it is not afflicted with contradictions regarding those requirements. On Rand’s theory, rights are inalienable, in that others cannot take away or nullify one’s rights; but they are also forfeitable, in that one can relinquish one’s own rights by violating the rights of others. If and to the extent that a person violates the rights of others, he relinquishes his own rights and may be punished accordingly. His choice to violate rights places him outside the purpose of the principle and thus the scope of its protection. Again, one cannot claim the protection of a principle that one repudiates in action.
If rights were inherent in human nature, based purely on DNA or species-membership, then the advocates of “personhood for zygotes” would be right: the fertilized egg would have a right to life. However, on an objective theory of rights, rights cannot apply until the fetus is biologically separated from the woman. Only then does the fetus — then a baby — enter the social context necessary for rights. For further details, see Ari Armstrong’s and my recently-published essay, “The Assault on Abortion Rights Undermines All Our Liberties.
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Did you need another reason to oppose the Drug War? Just in case, here’s reason #28173:
A former NYPD narcotics detective snared in a corruption scandal testified it was common practice to fabricate drug charges against innocent people to meet arrest quotas.
The bombshell testimony from Stephen Anderson is the first public account of the twisted culture behind the false arrests in the Brooklyn South and Queens narc squads, which led to the arrests of eight cops and a massive shakeup.
Anderson, testifying under a cooperation agreement with prosecutors, was busted for planting cocaine, a practice known as “flaking,” on four men in a Queens bar in 2008 to help out fellow cop Henry Tavarez, whose buy-and-bust activity had been low.
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In Sunday’s Rationally Selfish Webcast, I discussed the morality of torturing terrorists and criminals. The question was:
Is it moral to torture criminals and/or terrorists? We supposedly were able to track down Osama Bin Laden with information obtained by torturing captured Al Qaeda prisoners. Is it moral to torture criminals, terrorists or other evildoers to gain useful information to fight crime or help win a war? If so, should there be any limits on when and how torture should be used by the government?
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In the course of preparing for my recent webcast question on the morality of police lying to suspects, I realized that something is deeply wrong with the standard portrayals in crime dramas of the victim’s loved ones.
In those crime dramas, the friends and family of a murder victim are often deeply offended by any suspicion by the police that they might have committed the crime, often to the point of refusing to cooperate after being questioned in a vigorous way. Perhaps that rarely happens in real life: perhaps that’s just a device that television writers like to use to heighten conflict. However, if it does happen, then I think that’s a serious mistake on the part of those people. It’s a failure to understand the epistemic context of the police (and prosecutors) in a criminal investigation.
As I mentioned in the webcast, police officers face a daunting task in any investigation, particularly a murder investigation. Without any ability to speak to the murder victim, they must insert themselves into his life, then extract relevant information from a slew of strangers, many of whom will be unreliable, if not flatly dishonest.
People truly mourning for the murder victim — as opposed to any criminals in their midst — should want justice to be done. They should want the police to catch the killer. As a result, they should want the police to conduct a vigorous and thorough investigation, including of the people close to the victim. Simply based on the natural trajectory of an investigation, plus the statistics on who kills who, the police ought to begin their investigation with the person’s intimate family and friends. And for the police, no one should be above suspicion.
Hence, the people closest to the victim should expect — and even want — to be questioned. They shouldn’t want the police to assume that “no mother would kill her son” and “the wife cried, so she wouldn’t have killed her husband.” Instead, these people should want the police to suspicious of them until provided with some fact-based reasons not to be suspicious. They should want the police to dig — and sometimes, that will require asking uncomfortable, difficult, or pointed questions. Sometimes, that will require lying to test the statement of a witness too.
Undoubtedly, that would be terribly difficult to endure, particularly in the wake of a tragic death. Still, true friends and family should be grateful for a vigorous investigation, so long as the police are ultimately concerned with doing justice. To do otherwise is to ignore the police’s context of knowledge. The police can only learn about the nature and quality of the victim’s relationships by prying into them, and they know that the murderer (if among them) will resist that by feigning grief and lying about crucial facts. Sometimes, the police must press hard to separate the innocent from the guilty — and that’s right and proper! Even people in mourning should recognize that.
Of course, if the police are dishonest or unjust in their investigation — if they make assumptions of guilt or ignore facts, if they’re just seeking an easy conviction rather than justice — then that’s a whole different matter. And I still think that a person shouldn’t talk to the police without a lawyer present.
But overall, a person should be glad to be questioned vigorously about the murder of a loved one, because then he can have some measure of confidence that if justice can be done, it will be done.
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In preparation for Sunday’s Rationally Selfish Webcast question on whether police should be allowed to lie to suspects in the course of a criminal investigation, I’ve been researching the standard practices and legal limits of police interrogation. I’ve found that extremely interesting, so I thought I’d share some links before the webcast itself.
First, How Police Interrogation Works from “How Stuff Works.” Basically, police interrogations are designed to exert as much psychological pressure on the victim as the courts allow. This article explains those techniques.
Second, What can the police lie about while conducting an interrogation? from “The Straight Dope.” This article is a fascinating summary of what kind of facts the police are permitted to misrepresent in dealings with suspects — because some and only some kinds of lies violate the suspect’s rights. The basic distinction is between “intrinsic” and “extrinsic” falsehoods. The article says:
Attempting to reconcile [various] rulings [by the Supreme Court], state courts and lower federal courts have come to draw a distinction between two kinds of lying to suspects: intrinsic misrepresentations, or those lies that relate to a suspect’s connection to the crime; and extrinsic misrepresentations, or those that have nothing to do with the suspect’s connection to the crime but attempt to distort his ability to make a rational choice about confessing.
That’s the critical issue here, I think. Police should be able to lie to suspects, but some kinds of lies — such as “you don’t have the right to an attorney” or “we can hold you indefinitely” constitute a kind of fraud, whereas others like “your fingerprints were found at the scene of the murder” and “a witness saw you enter the store” don’t. However, I’m not yet fully clear on the distinction, and I need to do more reading, this time from genuine law sources.
Greg blogged about this video back in 2008, but I didn’t watch it at the time. Now that I have, I can agree with Greg’s summary and conclusions:
[James Duane] is speaking to law students, explaining why he uniformly advises his clients (and everyone) that they should they never, ever, under any circumstances, talk with the police — guilty or innocent, a suspect or not, even if they are smarter than Aristotle and Newton combined, articulate as all get out, an expert in the law, and pure as the wind-driven snow. Never. …
He explains how talking to the police can’t ever help, and will in all likelihood hurt even innocents. This last is the part that really stood out: even the most innocuous statements by the most innocent of people could put them in jeopardy — it depends on context they don’t control. An officer misremembering an answer could bring a conviction; so could misremembering the question. Taping interviews is no guarantee, either: even some fuzziness in the contextual information that floated by before the interview could be disastrous!
In this follow-up lecture, George Bruch completely agreed with James Duane: a person should not speak to the police without his lawyer present.