Those who prosecute crimes in our courts are supposed to have some obligation to promote justice: to only prosecute those guilty of crime and to help vindicate the innocence of those who may be wrongly accused of criminal conduct. The criminal justice system relies on the integrity of those who enforce the law to do so honestly and fairly. All too frequently, reality does not resemble that ideal.
The Georgetown Law Journal recently published an article written by Judge Alex Kozinski of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals discussing why we should question the integrity and efficacy of our criminal justice system. Judge Kozinski, a Reagan appointee, acknowledges that most law enforcement officials and prosecutors are fair and honest. Yet, as he demonstrates, there is a significant incidence of dishonesty and misconduct among law enforcement and prosecutors enhanced by “. . . a legal environment that tolerates sharp prosecutorial practices that gives important and undeserved career advantages to prosecutors who are willing to step over the line, tempting others to do the same.”
Portions of Judge Kozinski’s article are republished and serialized in Eugene Volokh’s blog, “The Volokh Conspiracy”, at the Washington Post’s web site here. In the article Judge Kozinski discusses multiple instances where federal and state prosecutors have concealed exculpatory evidence from defendants in order to obtain convictions against defendants that the police and prosecutors knew were not guilty. Even if and when such misconduct comes to light, those responsible often suffer few, if any, adverse consequences.
This recent piece by Radley Balko in the Washington Post about the extent of prosecutorial misconduct in Orange County California where a judge ultimately disqualified the district attorney’s entire office from a criminal case due to pervasive misconduct reinforces Judge Kozinski’s concerns.
When judges question the integrity of our criminal justice system in such broad terms, it’s hard to understand how or why the rest of us should be more confident or trusting in that system.