Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Texas is paying the price for its tough on crime stance

How much is a wasted life worth? Is it even possible to compensate someone for being wrongfully convicted?

The State of Texas is paying the price for its tough on crime stance over the years. Judges, prosecutors, police officers and whores experts-for-hire played the game for years. Prosecutors hid the evidence that didn't fit into their story of how the crime occurred. Police officers lied on the stand about how they went about finding the goods on the bad guy. And judges closed their ears and looked the other way when the snake-oil salesmen peddling junk science took the stand and testified for the state.

Michael Morton, who spent some 25 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit is the latest high-profile inmate to be exonerated. The state is paying him $80,000 a year for the rest of his life and providing health insurance as its penance for taking a huge chunk of his life from him.

Tim Cole and Cameron Willingham weren't so lucky. Mr. Cole was convicted of rape but was exonerated posthumously. Mr. Willingham was strapped down to a gurney and murdered for a crime that never happened.

Now politicians are seeing dollar signs. Two years ago the state whacked over $5 billion from public education. Why are we paying these men who were wrongly convicted so much, they ask. Why don't we take some of that money and put it back into education?

For too long the courts and the public looked the other way while folks got railroaded in the courthouse. For too long men and women who did nothing wrong sat behind bars because our criminal (in)justice system didn't work right. Those men and women lost years of their lives that can never be replaced - no matter how much money you put on the table.

We're told in law school - and in the movies and on TV - that our adversarial system is the crucible of truth. We're taught that a trial is a search for the truth of what happened.

That's bullshit. A trial isn't about discovering the truth.  A trial is about whether or not one side proved its case. That's it. There's no truth in that. You tell a story and I tell a story. The folks sitting in the jury box listen to both and decide which one they like the best.

The result is a system where actual innocence isn't grounds for appeal.

If lawmakers want to reduce the amount of money being spent on exonerees, then let's do something about reducing the number of wrongful convictions in Texas.

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