I think it is human nature. As Dale Carnegie said, “A person’s toothache means more to that person than a famine in China which kills a million people. A boil on one’s neck interests one more than forty earthquakes in Africa.”
And I would add further, a conviction for a prosecutor, for example, means more to that person than whether 50 innocent people languish in prison.
Everyone has a motive, and that motive is self-interest. In positions of power, there ought to be checks and balances for this reason alone. Of course, not all prosecutors are corrupt, they are not all sociopaths. But the motive for them to convict after they indict, and the motive to indict after they spend time investigating a target, and the motive to find targets to investigate to keep up their road to advancement – conviction stats – is so high that even average prosecutors will be influenced by a confirmation bias that will help them be blind to innocence.
The indictment of innocents for a prosecutor is the most unpleasant, uncomfortable feeling in the world for that prosecutor. He or she will either have to admit they are wrong, that they are, in effect, incompetent, that their office is reckless, in short, a stain on their entire career, or they have to save themselves, save their reputation and overlook. With dishonest prosecutors, they will knowingly try to convict an innocent defendant. For the mediocre prosecutor, he or she will merely put on blinders and see only their theories of guilt, ignoring evidence of innocence, and permitting themselves to lie to themselves and say that the jury will make the decision so it is not incumbent upon them to make the final determination of guilt or innocence. So, should an innocent defendant or two or three or a hundred in the course of one’s career, go to prison, it was the jury who spoke.
Let us now take a look at another excellent contribution by a reader/commenter, Erasend, who recently wrote, US Criminal ‘Justice’ System Is Operated for the Benefit of Those Who Operate It, Not for Justice.
Erasend points out that money drives much of the US criminal justice system’s impetus to put more people in prison and used an example of private prisons. This irked one of our readers, Pious Bangkok, who wrote in reply: “The beat cop making arrests does not care one fucking IOTA about ‘corporate profits’ from these so-called private prisons, LOL, since it has no effect on their own career.
“The local prosecutor doesn’t care one fucking IOTA about ‘corporate profits’ from a few private prisons, LOL, since they only care about their own career advancement.
“The judges who sentence inmates don’t care one fucking IOTA about ‘corporate profits’ from a few private prisons, LOL, since it doesn’t benefit them in any fashion.”
You assume a whole lot based on very little. Do private jails have sway? Yes, to those in charge.
If they are a multi-million-dollar expense on the state or local ledger, by default, they have influence on those in charge. Think they got there by the goodness of their heart or the influence they have (usually in monetary support to those that got elected)?
Do you know what chain-of-command is? That chain impacts pretty much everyone in your silly examples. Ever heard of “shit rolls downhill”
It’s where the boss makes a decision who passes on a subordinate who passes it on to a subordinate…
An example of that could be as simple a command as “Focus on low-level drug sellers, I want to send the message we do not tolerate drug dealing.” or “Focus on prostitutes, I want to send the message that this is a family-friendly city!”. This command filters all the way down to the beat cop.
Sometimes that might be done for the common good, sometimes not. Sometimes it’s for jails, sometimes it’s not. I’m not saying the jail system sways all actions but it’s one of many problems that do dictate how resources and means are allocated.
This brings up ambition.
Do you think the beat cop doesn’t want to rise in the ranks? That the local prosecutor doesn’t want to move up? That the judge doesn’t have ambition? All of them tend to be politically driven positions (check when you get a chance on how many politicians are ex-lawyers).
Do you think it’s an accident that you hear about an area of the city suddenly getting extra police attention during an election year? Or that suddenly the police put extra special effort in going after prostitutes or other “red-light” activity in their city (again during an election year)?
The reason is simple – it gets them on TV (sex sells..) discussing how they are tough on crime and care about cleaning up the city. It also has the added benefit of being relatively safe so the guy doesn’t have to be associated with “drug arrest goes wrong!” type story. Do you think the beat cops give two shits about doing that? No, but were they ordered to because their boss and they want to get that promotion.
If there is one consistent problem I have with all of the Pious Bangkok post is you really have no clue to the connections of anything. You think everything is an isolated island where domino effects, chain-of-command, greed and more don’t exist. For your idiot analogy about beat cops, local prosecutors, and judges to work, you have to
(a) assume they are not ambitious,
(b) they don’t get orders from others,
(c) they only care about the common good, and
(d) they’re not greedy.
Guess what, more than likely they are a mix of some and none of the above.
If you take away anything, it’s that you need to learn to know that there is the ideal way things were to work, and the way things actually work and recognize that push and pulls that prevent the thing from becoming the ideal. Once you recognize those factors, you can start to maybe come up with ways to move to the ideal. A refusal to see how things are instead of how you wish things would be does no one any favors.
Frank Parlato wrote, “The prosecutor is driven by advancement of career by conviction stats. The FBI agents are driven by indictment stats. Judges want plea deals for judicial efficiency. Prisons want prisoners for budget purposes. Lawmakers want harsher sentences to look tough on crime and to advance the agendas of the generous prison industry.”
I have a simple theory about people – everyone has a motive for everything they do. People assume motive is negative (too much TV) but it is simply just the why someone does a thing. It could be as simple as feeling warm and fuzzy for doing a good thing to absolute lust for power. More often than not it’s just a desire to keep their job and, hopefully, advance in it. But even doing that has certain requirements and minimum goals.
The above is a great summary of just some of the motives people have for what they are doing in the criminal justice system. It’s not inherently wrong motives, not even bad ones, but they can lead to decisions that have bad outcomes. I have no clue how to prevent that. Experts have been trying since the concept of a justice system was first invented. Human motivation always muddies the waters, intentionally or otherwise.
This leads to things like prosecutors trying to dupe juries, especially grand juries, when they need to.
Prosecutors want to win, they do not want to advance cases that they think will either lose or in winning create a losing situation for them (like say piss off the police force they need to do their job).
Examples of this have been seen hundreds of times over the years. The cases against police shootings. The evidence is sometimes clear as clean water (video of shooting guy in the back) that the case should move forward to trial and yet somehow they announce “The grand jury decided to not indict”.
A Grand Jury’s job is basically to decide if the charges by the prosecutor have merit based on the evidence presented to them. It’s not to decide guilt or innocence. It’s a voluntary process the prosecutor engaged in on the case and usually, it is a very low bar to clear.
In effect, by convening the grand jury, the prosecutor is indirectly declaring “I have enough evidence to make this process worth perusing”.
Maybe not enough to win an actual jury trial but enough to go to a jury trial. Yet it’s amazing how often when it’s a politically charged case that could hurt the career prospects of a prosecutor, mayor, etc., they just can’t clear that low bar.
People just go “Oh well, I wonder what happened? There must be more to the case than we thought!” and thus political cover is provided.