June 12th, 2011

green leaves

Notably good justice systems?

I post a fair amount about destructive sloppiness in the US justice system, and I'm wondering about who does it better, and how could you tell?

Obviously, having more reasonable laws and moderate sentencing policies helps, but what about being meticulously trying to convict the guilty rather than the innocent, even if it means not convicting anyone? I'm not sure how better to phrase this-- it's not that the US system always convicts some random person if someone guilty can't be found (there are plenty of unsolved cases, including capital cases), it's that there's enough pressure to convict that innocent people get railroaded too often.

I'm inclined to think that confession may have no place in a legitimate justice system-- it's just too easy to get false confessions. In particular, plea bargaining has a high likelihood of getting false confessions.

And requiring convincing remorse means that innocent people who refuse to lie get worse treatment than guilty people do. Also, no one would explicitly say that having better social and/or acting skills should lead to better treatment if accused, but that's how rewarding convincing remorse plays out.

On the other hand, you don't necessarily want to treat people who say "I did it and I don't care" the same way you treat people who either say they're innocent or who are remorseful.

One of the things that's come out is some types of forensic evidence aren't solid. It's only been relatively recently discovered that ideas about evidence for arson were grossly inaccurate.

While so far as I know, people are still considered to have unique fingerprints, this doesn't mean that matching fingerprints which are incomplete or smudges is reliable.

And then there's bite mark evidence, which has not been scientifically checked, and has led to false convictions. (The material about the problems with bite mark evidence begins on page 9.)

Eyewitness testimony isn't as reliable as people want to think.

Exoneration from Dallas county-- the District Attorney Craig Watkins has made a major effort to exonerate innocent people.

I suppose one aspect of a high-quality justice system would be not convicting on a single piece of forensic evidence, especially if there's other evidence (alibis, lack of a criminal record) pointing towards innocence, and it would be nice if there were scientific evaluation of forensic evidence. Am I being too utopian?

One marker for a good justice system would people generally believing that convictions are not how you tell that the justice system is doing its job. Another would be not resisting additional evidence of innocence.

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