Brittle steel was only one factor in the sinking of the Titanic. Though the steel had no give when the tip of the iceberg was hit, other factors included arrogance and unwillingness for the designers to admit that fundamental design flaws made her prime to sink.
Likewise, the Texas District and County Attorneys Association (TDCAA) “Setting the Record Straight on Prosecutorial Misconduct” report sinks upon its first impact with reality.
TDCAA seeks to minimize the efforts of the Innocence Project by making it appear as if one or two exonerated individuals cause little concern because of their stance that no prosecutor misconduct occurred at any level.
The report ignores the fact that without the DNA tests demanded by the Innocence Project, the misdirected method by which the State of Texas imprisoned those falsely found guilty would remain unexposed. Like the review board following the disaster of Titanic sinking, too much flattery and justification for those with vested interested prevented the TDCAA from arriving at an enlightened conclusion.
Much like the designers of the Titanic, Robert Kepple of the Texas Attorneys Association included the following self-serving sentence in his report: “As ministers of justice, prosecutors are called to a higher standard.”
If this were an understood and enforced reality, our legislatures would set the accountability bar so that law enforcers and prosecutors face a higher degree of review. However, this elitist notion among prosecutors causes them to set any outside examination so high as to be, at best, meaningless.
“Setting the Record Straight on Prosecutorial Misconduct” should have addressed the fundamental laws and the prosecution of those laws in the report – but it failed to do so. Instead, the report revealed the characteristic blindness prosecutors propagate among themselves.
If it took an extensive organization like the Innocence Project, with its vast donor base and legal team, to bring about the DNA testing of just two innocent men, the report in effect demonstrated that our legal system remains so entrenched in hostility toward the innocent that we desperately need serious reforms in the prosecutor’s offices, nationwide and at every level.
Like the inquirers into the sinking of the Titanic, those most accountable for the sinking were blindsided by prejudices in favor of themselves. Lost in a sea of legal jargon floats the fact that the Innocence Project, by exonerating the few proven innocent by DNA, points to the brittle steel of the whole ship within the legal system that sinks many innocent lives, their loved ones, and society.
The question is a simple one: Why is there a need for the Innocence Project in the first place? The answer is just as simple: Because prosecutors no longer understand their jobs. The power has gone to their heads, and the very fabric of a safe society is at risk – creating an environment where bully elements and the lynch mob gain an upper hand to the determent of honest citizens.
Reminiscent of the Titanic, those traveling in first class – in this case, the prosecutors – remain oblivious to the sufferings of the voiceless people in steerage. Rather than effecting real change, such as prosecuting those who make false accusations, fostering speedy trials, and reforming the torturous method of shaking down a plea bargain, prosecutors around the country appear to engage in a public relations maneuver to appear nice and accommodating. None should fall for this Machiavellian-style promotion of themselves, where prosecutors appear to be concerned for justice while disregarding basic human rights.
When I contacted Texas attorney Robert Kepple of the TDCAA he stated, “I assure you that prosecutors do take this very seriously. Our leadership spends a good deal of time in introspection on the issue, and we have a number of things we will be doing to address the problems.”
However a “good deal” of introspection does not equal reform, and assurances that prosecutors take the matter of those falsely imprisoned very seriously has not produced a single reform such as prosecuting those who make false accusations or subjecting the prosecutor’s office to a citizen oversight board. Not only is there zero proof for prosecutor concern for the innocent beyond mere wordplay, most people would be shocked to learn that no method of filing a complaint (other than an expensive lawsuit) towards a prosecutor exists.
On the contrary, laws stack up as an unhealthy wall, enabling prosecutors to remain above any real personal liability. For the same misconduct and crimes they charge and make us liable for, prosecutors have seen fit to exempt themselves. The standard prosecutors can be held personally liable for stands so high a bar that it’s impossible to reach.
Letting prosecutors write their own review report is like asking the fox that just ate your chickens what it considers reasonable compensation.
Time would be better spent with prosecutor associations around the country developing a code of understandable ethics and censuring their fellow prosecutors rather than writing a report to minimize the efforts of the Innocence Project.
A need for reform
The suicide of Aaron Swartz, who after years of being slammed by threats of long prison terms was offered six months prison time just before he took his life, underscores the tragic need for reform. The dehumanizing win at all costs, and the present all-charges mentality must be sharply reformed.
The Swartz suicide is by no means an isolated case. Washington State, which brought about the “worst example ever of mental health services being abused by a state” through the Wenatchee child abuse prosecutions, continues to employ a hate crime by Prosecuting Attorney Daniel T. Satterberg in favor of a simple, easy child abuse accusation.
The Texas report ignores a basic fact: Cases like Mr. Swartz, and abuse of power by Prosecutor Satterberg do not have the luxury of a simple DNA test to exonerate those accused. The lack of attention to this issue is a fundamental failure of the report. Prosecutor Satterberg, while promoting himself as family man helping out with the Special Olympics, testified that he is in favor of reasonable compensation for those exonerated to the tune of a paltry $50,000.
Prosecutor Satterberg’s rationale does not even approach the definition of reasonable. It is merely a tool to further erode prosecutor liability while giving the false appearance of concern. When I contacted Satterberg to discuss these matters, he refused to address any issues. Like the self-serving criminal who, once tried and convicted, admits to some degree of guilt in order to lessen the jail sentence, prosecutors around the country are all too willing to discuss powder-puff questions among an accepting crowd but become downright hostile and quiet once confronted with solid questions that demand serious answers.
Both Satterberg and attorney Robert Kepple clammed up in a hurry once matters got beyond their usual accepting crowd.
The TDCAA report’s extremely narrow focus on those exonerated by DNA blinds the reader to the fundamental design flaws that have been put in place by the justice system in the last thirty years. Buried on page seventeen is where the TDCAA report should have started and remained focused if it was to be of any positive value.
Despite these circumstances, prosecutors must learn to resist the urge to rebuff a defense attorney’s assaults using tactics that may conflict with their duty to seek the truth at all times. This is often contrary to human nature, but as ministers of justice, prosecutors are called to a higher standard that must be constantly reinforced both within an office and within the profession. In conclusion, the subcommittee recognizes that additional research on this emerging topic needs to be conducted and recommends that TDCAA continue to explore the concept of cognitive bias and how it may play a role in prosecutor conduct and decision-making.” [page 17 TDCAA report]
The above quote is a long-winded and high-sounding way of saying that prosecutors try to win cases for the emotion of their egos, and more research is needed. Contrary to the quote, the last thing needed is more research on the emotions of prosecutors. Talking and research are for those who want to stall any real reform. The abuse of justice is the prosecutor standard, and it doesn’t take another hour of research to implement basic reforms.
It is all too easy to understand why there is so much corruption:
If at your place of work, no one were punished for lying, cheating and abusing proper procedure, the results would be exactly like those workers were exempt from prosecution. If mothers told their children they would not be punished for lying, the result would be a flood of lies. Every mother knows this, why is such a notion so difficult for the prosecutor’s office?
We need to understand that it is never anyone’s job to convict the innocent nor overbook one’s fellow human being with waves of federal charges. Once the prosecutors accept this basic human rights premise, we can easily implement the reforms that transform, for it appears the Bill of Rights no long carries any meaning other than to bully one’s prosecution around.
Naturally, the benefits of reform will result in fewer tax dollars spent on the bloated, bureaucratic plea-bargaining system. Needless, and groundless trials will be greatly diminished by doing away with “he said/she said” accusations, quickly ensuring the safety of society as a whole. Confidence in the prosecutor’s office would be regained as society began to slowly trust again as the innocent are not even accused, and those in jail go to prison for the actual crimes they committed. The lynch mob would be told to go home and allow the justice system to reflect some measure of righteousness rather than to have a pass for false accusations that prosecutors can use as a notch on their guns.
Just as the sinking of the Titanic brought about tangible reforms, so too the exonerated individuals discovered by the Innocence Project sound a valuable alarm bell on a sinking ship.
Let us hope someone pays attention to the flares sent into the starlit night from the sinking ship of justice.