Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A (tiny) step in the right direction

Former state district judge Ken Anderson, the man who prosecuted Michael Morton for a murder he didn't commit, entered into a plea bargain on Friday that will see him serve 10 days in the Williamson County Jail, perform 500 hours of community service and be disbarred. In exchange for his guilty plea on a criminal contempt charge, Mr. Anderson will avoid trial on charges of tampering with evidence that could have seen him sentenced to prison time.

The contempt charge dates back to a 1987 exchange at the bench in which Mr. Anderson told the court and Mr. Morton's attorneys that he had no Brady material. What he didn't reveal was a statement by Mr. Morton's three-year-old son that put someone else in the house at the time of the murder.

Mr. Morton was present in the courtroom when Mr. Anderson entered into the plea agreement.

While there is some satisfaction that Mr. Anderson has paid something for the years he stole from Mr. Morton, there is no way the debt can ever be repaid. Mr. Morton lost seeing his son grow up. He lost all those moments we have with our children. He endured unspeakable horror in the state prison system.

But it wasn't just Ken Anderson who stole that time from Mr. Morton. It was our criminal (in)justice system. It was a jurisprudence that begins with the proposition that if the facts are bad enough a way will be found to uphold the conviction. Our Fourth Amendment resembles a piece of Swiss cheese because the US Supreme Court has spent decades carving out exceptions in order to uphold convictions of folks who did bad things regardless of how the police conducted their investigation.

Such a jurisprudence results in protections and guarantees that are so riddled with holes as to be entirely unrecognizable. We are left with an illogical framework of rights that makes no sense.

If our courts wanted to make it right judges would start off analyzing police behavior in isolation. If the police violated the Fourth Amendment it shouldn't matter what the defendant said or did (or how much of whatever he had on him). The Fourth Amendment doesn't distinguish between alleged offenses. Its language is absolute. Either a defendant's rights were violated or they weren't. There are no two ways about it.

This Alice in Wonderland-esque method of jurisprudence is what landed Mr. Morton in prison for 25 years. Ken Anderson was merely the delivery device for a system broken beyond repair. There are those who would say the end result of the case is a vindication of our criminal (in)justice system. I'm not one of them. Any system that allows an innocent man to lose 25 years of his life is broken. It is broken in the district and county courtrooms. It is broken in the Court of Appeals. It is broken in the Court of Criminal Appeals. And it is broken in Washington at the US Supreme Court.

We lost our way when it became more important to uphold convictions of people who did bad things than it was to uphold the Constitution. Michael Morton paid an awful price. So has every other man or woman who sat in a prison cell for even one day for a crime they didn't commit.


Lee said...

One Small Step for Man; One Giant Leap for Mankind.

Anonymous said...

Let's not forget that the real murderer, Mark Alan Norwood, was still free to commit the murder of Debra Masters Baker in 1988. Due to Ken Anderson's tunnel vision and disrespect for the law, another person was murdered, another family destroyed.