26 January 2010

"A police officer willing to cheat is more dangerous than a two-bit drug peddler."

Washington Post | Gene Weingarten | On the jury, Gene Weingarten didn't believe the D.C. police's eyes

As a juror, I was skeptical. As a citizen, I was angry. For one thing, I was mad about the whole case -- the bewildering amount of police time and taxpayer money spent on prosecuting one guy for selling $10 worth of narcotics. But as a juror, I felt it was not my business to object to that. I would have been willing to convict a defendant despite those misgivings.

The police testimony was another matter. As witnesses, the officers had been supremely self-assured, even cocky; clearly, they'd been through this hundreds of times. As they passed the jury before and after testimony, they greeted us winningly. One of them winked at us, almost imperceptibly. Their testimony was clear, concise, professional and, in my view, dishonest.

I believe they feel themselves to be warriors fighting the good fight against bad people who have the system stacked in their favor. I believe they knew they had the right guy and were willing to cheat a little to assure a conviction.

I believe they had the right guy, too. But the willingness to cheat, I think, is a poisonous corruption of a system designed to protect the innocent at the risk of occasionally letting the guilty walk free. It's a good system, fundamental to freedom. I think a police officer willing to cheat is more dangerous than a two-bit drug peddler.

In his charge to the jury, the judge made it clear that if we found the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt -- which I had -- it was our duty to convict. I was prepared to defy these instructions and acquit, in the interest of a greater good. There is actually a term for this: "jury nullification." I was going to nullify.
[Emph. mine.]

I'll never forget something an inmate at the Michigan City Indiana State Prison told me: "99% of the guys in here are as guilty as they come. And 99% of the guys in here were thoroughly screwed by the justice system."

I don't think you can even begin to understand American law enforcement until you recognize both sides of that coin.

(Via Radley Balko)

No comments:

Post a Comment