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Justice, American style.
August 19, 2002 12:00 PM   Subscribe

Justice, American style. In July 1997, Michelle Bosko is raped and murdered. Police find no sign of forced entry and recover numerous semen and skin samples as well as fingerprints. The detectives ask the husband for his "gut feeling" for who did it. The husband fingers their neighbor. After many hours with a detective with a history of coerced confessions, he confesses and implicates his roommate. His roommate implicates three other men. Subsequent confessions from those men implicate a total of seven men. None of the suspects match the DNA or fingerprint evidence. Two years later, on a chance recovery of a jailhouse confession, a suspect admits to the killing. He has several rapes/assaults to his record and was a friend of the victim. He later confesses to the crime and says he acted alone. He matches the DNA and fingerprint analysis. The district attorney does NOT believe him, and convicts a total of five people for the crime.
posted by patrickje (51 comments total)

 
"Justice, American style".

{sighs} Can we ever just discuss something without some broad-based slam on America?
posted by Witty at 12:17 PM on August 19, 2002


There was a show on last night on the Discovery Channel ("Medical Detectives"? or something like that). I did think it was a little weird that the district attorney still prosecuted the other jack-asses that confessed, even when their confessions didn't match the physical evidence (one confessor said he smashed the doorknob off in order to enter the apartment, but the police said the door was undamaged). But it's kind of hard to feel sorry for people that confess to shit they didn't do ("I feel bad for the dead girl in that picture. I know, I'll say I did it! that will help things") I mean there's mental illness and then there's stupidity.

If I was the husband, as long as the guy whose DNA matched was in jail, I'd be content. I wouldn't really care what happened to the other people. (The husband in this case still felt they were all involved somewhow, even though there was no evidence).
posted by stifford at 12:20 PM on August 19, 2002


Witty
This wasn't really a slam on American justice. I thought it was a fascinating story. For one, the detectives did not record the interview sessions, only the confession. And why would the prosecutor refuse to believe the most credible suspect? I mean the prosecutor flatly stated that one man could not have done this, that was her reasoning for pursuing charges against all the defendents.
(originally found on Medical Detectives)
posted by patrickje at 12:32 PM on August 19, 2002


Our justice system does a pretty darn good job 99% of the time (an opinionated guess for all the nit-pickers). So, to me, sarcastically labeling our justice system the way you did, is as much of a troll as any other I've seen on this board.
posted by Witty at 12:39 PM on August 19, 2002


Stifford, a lot of people get confessions beaten out of them - and many of them confess just because that's what they think their interrogator wants to hear, and they know it will stop the beating. You or I, faced with enough violence or threats of violence or the threat of life in prison, might, in the right (or wrong!) circumstances, admit to something we did not do.
posted by luriete at 12:41 PM on August 19, 2002


I mean there's mental illness and then there's stupidity.

I don't really have any direct knowledge of the process of interrogation, but it seems like a fascinating thing. Police (from my understanding, based almost entirely on Law & Order and the article on John Lindh Walker earlier this year in Harpers) use all sorts of confusing techniques and wordplay to get someone to admit to crimes, for example, putting things in the hypothetical, ("So, say it was you that did it. How would you have done it?") to get the person talking about it in the first person. It's something I hope to find out more about.
posted by claxton6 at 12:42 PM on August 19, 2002


But it's kind of hard to feel sorry for people that confess to shit they didn't do ("I feel bad for the dead girl in that picture. I know, I'll say I did it! that will help things") I mean there's mental illness and then there's stupidity.

There's stupidity and then there's incessant, heavy-pressure questioning from detective's trained in the art of extracting confessions for hours on end, possibly without any breaks. All the time recording each word the suspect says in the hopes that on the fifteenth time you ask him the same question he says something slightly different. Only guilty men change their stories, right?

These inconsistences will go straight into the detectives official report. However, the fact that these men gave the same truthful answers time and time again during their interrogation until they cracked sometime into the nth hour will not.

These cops are allowed to use every dirty trick in the book short of physical abuse. They can tell outright lies regarding the facts and evidence of the case in hopes of extracting useful information. When these innocent men confessed, they did not do it because they had been convinced of their own guilt. They probably did it for no other reason than to stop the torment and hope that they could get off easier by cooperating.
posted by thewittyname at 12:46 PM on August 19, 2002


I agree that our justice system works fairly well. Saying 99% is probably either naive or uncaring. Let's face it... innocent people are put to death in this country. We execute the mentally retarded, children, and the innocent. Serial child molesters are let out of prison after 4 years to re-offend. American justice does work most of the time. But we as Americans need to remain vigilant that justice is done.
posted by patrickje at 12:54 PM on August 19, 2002


A determined detective with plenty of time can persuade innocent people to confess to murders they did not commit. It's happened so often it's hardly news. The Innocence Project specializes in clearing wrongfully convicted people through DNA evidence, whether or not wrongful confessions were a factor.
posted by sacre_bleu at 1:12 PM on August 19, 2002


patrickje: There are thousands of cases that go through our justice system everyday and are served well by it. You refer to only the high profile dramatic cases where the justice system shows it's weaknesses. I agree that these unfortunate mistakes happen, but I still think that 99%-plus of the judgements our courts make are right and fair.

"But we as Americans need to remain vigilant that justice is done."

With this, I couldn't agree more.
posted by Witty at 1:15 PM on August 19, 2002


There's stupidity and then there's incessant, heavy-pressure questioning from detective's trained in the art of extracting confessions for hours on end, possibly without any breaks.

I've heard stories about the local detective in my old town who could twist confessions out of juvenile suspects even when they haven't done anything. I think I would just keep refusing to answer any of their questions and demand to speak to my lawyer. You kind of get the impression that they think everyone is guilty until proven innocent. Circumstantial evidence is enough for some juries, prosecutors, and investigators, its easier than really digging for the truth. The possibility of being implicated in something like that is frightening, that's the kind of thing that will ruin your whole life. I propose eliminating the drug war and focusing those resources on solving crimes that matter. Vigilance on the part of citizens is also good, but a lot of it seems to be after the fact chronicling, it's hard to get people to defend you when you've already been convicted, methinks. Just look at Traficant.
posted by insomnyuk at 1:20 PM on August 19, 2002


This is the article from Harper's that claxton6 referred to above. It's a very interesting read for those who can't understand why innocent people confess to crimes they did not commit, and is also a brief legal history of police interrogation and coercion.
posted by pitchblende at 1:20 PM on August 19, 2002


From what I remember of the show, I think one of the guys said they were pushed around. But the rest of them not only confessed, but then went into court and pleaded guilty. It was some wacky shit, especially the guy that said he bashed the doorknob in with a hammer (and the door was not damaged at all.) But it might have just been that the show didn't cover all the details. I was also arguing with my roommate over the show while we watched it, so there's a chance I missed something.

and I'd still say it's a little stupid to confess to something that going to get you locked away for life, even if after getting smacked around a bit. I'm not saying that it's not possible for police to get someone to confess to something they didn't do, I'm just saying the people they do get to do it are kind of dopey.
posted by stifford at 1:27 PM on August 19, 2002


Hello! Please, for the sake of the justice system, if you are arrested: (a) shut the fuck up, and (b) call your lawyer. Goodly jeebus.

Let's face it... innocent people are put to death in this country.

Name one.
posted by UncleFes at 1:36 PM on August 19, 2002


pitchblende: Thanks. I didn't even bother looking for it, because I assumed nothing from Harpers would be online.
posted by claxton6 at 1:37 PM on August 19, 2002


UncleFes: Jesus Christ?

{ducks}
posted by Witty at 1:40 PM on August 19, 2002


Jesus was crucified in America?
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 1:42 PM on August 19, 2002


Damn... I thought of that right after I posted. So much for being clever.
posted by Witty at 1:43 PM on August 19, 2002


Not this country. And I'm speaking of the modern capital punishment mechanism.

Believe me, if a truly innocent man were found to have been executed, his name would be trumpeted from the rooftops by every anti-capital punishment proponent in the country, and I bet that capital punishment would be repealed in this country within days after the discovery - but the fact is, that not one executed criminal has later been found to be innocent in modern America. Not one. Death penalty detractors like to assume that one has, but he or she has never been found.
posted by UncleFes at 1:44 PM on August 19, 2002


UncleFes
Did you miss the link to Gary Graham?
posted by patrickje at 1:44 PM on August 19, 2002


FALSE CONFESSIONS

In a surprising and disturbing number of DNA exoneration cases, the defendants had made incriminating statements or delivered outright confessions. Many factors arise from interrogation that may lead to false confession, including: duress, coercion, intoxication, diminished capacity, ignorance of the law, and mental impairment. Fear of violence (threatened or performed) and threats of extreme sentences have also led innocent people to confess to crimes they did not perpetrate.

so I was partially right :)
posted by stifford at 1:44 PM on August 19, 2002


Did you miss the link to Gary Graham?

Bad Lawyer + Wrong Gun (ha!) does not = Innocent
posted by UncleFes at 1:50 PM on August 19, 2002


UncleFes, I understand the skepticism, but you can easily do the research yourself if you really care, instead of demanding individual cases from people here. Here's a good place to start: "Studies show that in this century, at least 400 innocent people have been convicted of capital crimes they did not commit. Of those 400, 23 were executed. The wrongful execution of an innocent person is an injustice that can never be rectified. Since the reinstatement of the death penalty, 96 men and women have been found to be factually innocent. Some were minutes away from execution."

Next step: Email or call for the studies. Simple, really.
posted by mediareport at 2:28 PM on August 19, 2002


What the heck? Was the judge into Bukkake or something?
posted by Veritron at 2:40 PM on August 19, 2002


Why are people throwing out such statements like "99% of all judgements are fair" and "Name one innocent person whose been convicted"? Remember when the (Republican) governor of Illinois put a moratorium on executions last year because they had exonerated more criminals on death row than they had executed since 1977?

That seems to put the justice system batting around .500.

Though I certainly wouldn't extrapolate this percentage to lower-level offenses, I wouldn't at all be surprised if you had a similar percentage of wrongful convictions of capital offenses in another states (though you might not have the same percentage of exonerations since not everyone has law school classes impartially trying to examine whether these convictions are right or not). The factors that contributed to the wrongful convictions in Illinois - incompetent attorneys, racist juries - are hardly endemic to Illinois.
posted by alidarbac at 2:43 PM on August 19, 2002


Not to derail the conversation but has anyone here every been the suspect of a serious crime and been interrogated?

I have. The interrogation process is a long, boring and taxing experience that amounts to a very simple game. The detective or police officer who questions you asks you why you did it, if you deny your involvement they tell you that you did do it and ask you why you did it and so on and so forth. This process is a long back and forth that can take many hours and I'm sure, although my questioning didn't, can take many days.

There is very little science to it, at least from the perspective of how it's applied in the field. The police officer feels he knows whether or not you're guilty and is trying get you to tell him the truth as he sees it. The police are also incredibly incompetent. They often forgot or reinvented aspects of my case, forgot which crime I was suspected of committing and often lied about my what my rights were. They won't give you a lawyer unless you demand one many times, they won't explain your rights once they've been given by the arresting officer and they will lie to you about what your legal options are and why you're being held.

Interrogations are shown in television as being sophisticated mind games with lots of back and forth between the detective and suspect. In reality, or at least in my experience, they often won't let you talk. Instead they will hammer you with reasons about how they know you did it.

The justice system barely works if at all and only appears to works because there is very little open and informed discussion about it. In my opinion it's a very scary and flawed system that one day will be seen as a tragedy and assault against the human spirit.

I met lots of people during this brief affair with law and order and many of them were trapped, seemingly with out their knowledge, in what can honestly be described as a maze. They knew the system and played it as best they could but were really trapped by it. The police are not immune to this. They're also trapped in this same mentality with all of the suspects, criminals and habitual offenders.

I met lots of cops too, and they were no different. They were also victims. they got caught up and forgot about the outside world. Cops get lost in this maze as well. It's easy to see the criminals and suspected criminals as the only ones lost in the system, but in fact the police are just as lost. Wayward, unable to find the way back, assuming there even is a back.

Anyway I digress. The justice system sucks and it's easy to confess to something you didn't do with out even knowing you've confessed and it's very tempting to say anything to get out of this mind numbing situation. It's feels like your going crazy after a while and you panic. who get the fight or flight thing and you want to climb the walls, but you can't. you're locked in an office with a microphone and surrounded by people who look like your enemy.

* In case you're wondering I was found guilty in my case and give probation. I actually plead guilty because my court appointed attorney told me the judge had already decided in my case and that if I didn't plead guilty I would be facing serious jail time. I knew at the time this was entirely illegal but was not willing to risk it and excepted probation.

** and as a side note regarding stiffords comments:

It's really very understandable why someone would not only confess to a crime they didn't commit but perjure themselves further by testifying in court compounding that false confession. once you've confessed any deviance from that original confession and your attorney, the police, the DA and possibly judge will threaten you with harsher penalties. You feel trapped by your earlier confession, however or under whatever circumstances it was given, and you go with it. But you really are pressured into compounding any lies or mistakes you've made once they've been excepted by the court as true.
posted by ex.pr.ni at 2:55 PM on August 19, 2002


"That seems to put the justice system batting around .500"

What? In Illinois? In high-profile death penalty cases? What does YOUR .500 figure encompass? The justice system handles cases beyond what you see on TV and such. Traffic law, corporate and contract law, family law, civil law, etc.

So you're telling me that the justice system botches 50% of all those cases too? Or do wrongful death penalty cases in Illinois make up more than 1% percent of all cases across the board?

ex.pr.ni: I'd be interested to know, if we may, what it is that you confessed to, knowing of course, that you were innocent of any crime.
posted by Witty at 3:09 PM on August 19, 2002


thanx ex.pr.ni! the justice system sounds like a lot of tv: dumb, boring and pointless :)

p.s. Witty is a TIPS operative! keke :)
posted by kliuless at 3:24 PM on August 19, 2002


stifford: If you don't care about people who confes to crimes that they didn't do, why do you care about women who are raped and things like that? I mean, its basicaly the same thing.
posted by delmoi at 3:58 PM on August 19, 2002


Not to derail the conversation but has anyone here every been the suspect of a serious crime and been interrogated?

I have.


Sorry to hear that, and your recounting was interesting, but it hardly qualifies as profound research. To characterize *all* interrogtion based on your one experience is a bit narrow minded. I've done detective work, worked with cops and police detectives, and know that there is a wide range of strategy when interogating a suspect. When you think a cop is "forgetting" or "confusing" the facts he or she may really be looking to see how you react and what you say.

Interogations may go on for along time because the cops want to see if you maintain the same story over time and under pressure.
posted by Ayn Marx at 4:10 PM on August 19, 2002


I'm not saying that it's not possible for police to get someone to confess to something they didn't do, I'm just saying the people they do get to do it are kind of dopey.

i've never been interogated... but i was "interviewed" by CSIS (canada's answer to the fbi) regarding my connection to some, erm, criminals.

though i was only in the spotlight for a few hours, it was not a pleasant few hours. fascinating, yes. pleasant, no.

Name one.

you're kidding, right? here's two: Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. (or, some claim, just Vanzetti.) here's two more: Dennis Stockton and Willie McGee. i'm sure you could find more by doing a search (those are off the top of my head).

then, there are people like Darryl Bell, Rubin Carter, Shabaka Sundiata Waqlimi, Aaron Lee Owens, Randall Dale Adams, and Leonard Peltier who collectively have served around 100 years for crimes they didn't commit. yeah, they ultimatately weren't executed, but all were on death row and, probably, all would have been executed if not for filmmakers and authors shining the spotlight. Peltier is still behind bars for chrissakes.
posted by dobbs at 5:26 PM on August 19, 2002


delmoi, I don't give a shit what anyone does to themself (if you're not harming anyone else). Throw yourself in a river, say your the mayor of Mars, never leave your house again. I don't understand why you would confess to something you didn't do, but I have no immediate problem if someone decides to do it (if the law is dumb enough to just accept that and leave a possibly dangerous offender out to commit more crimes just because they have it "all wrapped up", well that's another story). And if there's circumstances of the law trying to set someone up or pleading guilty to do less time, I accept that as more of a reason. But for people the confess to crimes that they had zero to do with, just for attention or whatever, not picked up on a tip or at the crime scene, I'm still going to have to file those poeple in the Stifford Files as "Dumb and/or Crazy".

and how is someone confessing to a crime they didn't commit the same as a person getting raped
posted by stifford at 6:20 PM on August 19, 2002


I don't understand why you would confess to something you didn't do, but I have no immediate problem if someone decides to do it

Have you ever been outraged at the fact that some schmuck can sue McDonald's for having spilled coffee on himself?

*That* is the same thing, in a way. Frivolous and needless tying up of justice and of law enforcement. Wonder how much it cost Joe Taxpayer to interrogate and arrest and try all of those ostensible rapists?

Not to mention the time it takes to do all that, while Omar Ballard is out raping a fourteen-year-old girl, as the police are kept busy chasing around seven other guys who are most egregiously guilty of polluting the gene pool.
posted by Sapphireblue at 6:48 PM on August 19, 2002


"how is someone confessing to a crime they didn't commit the same as a person getting raped"

I think the analogy being drawn there is that a forced confession is no more a true admission of guilt than rape is a true act of passion. Clunky, to put it mildly, but I take the point.

Anyways, the fact remains that our police agencies vary wildly. Some are excellent, truly ethical and accountable. Others are pretty corrupt, incompetant and more concerned with getting "bad guys" than serving justice.

The fact also remains that justice is not served impartially: that your race, your educational background, and, above all, how much money you can afford to spend on lawyers have everything to do with how you can expect to be treated in the criminal justice system.

These are problems. And saying (I believe fairly accurately), that over all our courts are fairly good doesn't mean that we shouldn't solve these problems.
posted by AlexSteffen at 6:54 PM on August 19, 2002


I don't understand why you would confess to something you didn't do ...

Then you haven't been following along all that closely.

Slowly, for the hearing impaired at home:

If the police get your name somehow and think you possibly did a serious crime, they might spend the time and energy to break you. If you do not demand an attorney, and stick with your demand, the questioning will continue, in shifts. Sometimes, police officers will continue your interrogation, for 36 hours or longer in some cases, until you would confess to anything they suggested.

It's a close cousin of the process that the North Koreans used to get American servicemen to "confess" to "war crimes" after they were POWs.

... but I have no immediate problem if someone decides to do it

Problem No. 1 with railroading ignorant, innocent shitheads: The real criminal still runs free ... with a renewed sense of invulnerability.
posted by sacre_bleu at 8:51 PM on August 19, 2002


Have you ever been outraged at the fact that some schmuck can sue McDonald's for having spilled coffee on himself?

Oh please do find another example. The coffee lawsuit was decided perfectly appropriately given the facts of the case. McDonald's had previously received over 700 complaints about its overly hot coffee -- including other cases of third-degree burns -- and admitted in court that it kept its coffee a full 45 to 50 degrees hotter than other establishments because a consultant said it would taste better. Go ahead and read the full story and you'll never again use the McDonald's coffee lawsuit as an example of "frivolous and needless tying up of justice."

Sorry for the thread hijack, but the myth of the coffee lawsuit is still being used to eliminate some important consumer protections against the greed and arrogance in some businessmen, and needs to be called out.
posted by mediareport at 10:01 PM on August 19, 2002


There was a case a little like this in my hometown -- a block and a half away, actually. A guy was found dead in his living room, his one-year-old daughter wandering around. The investigation led to the non-custodial mother and her druggie friends, eventually centering on the mother, a female pal, and a male pal of both, and apparently they had all slept with one another at different points. (Bisexuality in the heartland!) It came out in the local media that they were the primary suspects, but there wasn't enough physical evidence to indict. There was at least one defamation lawsuit. Meanwhile the investigators bided their time and tried to set them against one another. I think they cracked right after an incident where all three were arrested in a bar just across the county line in violation of whatever bail / probation arrangement they had. Lame, yes, but it led to the guy choosing to flip based on informants saying he'd bragged about the killing. He testified, IIRC, against both women, who both blamed the other in irreconcilable stories. Both women were convicted; he went free. As far as I'm concerned, the truth was a casualty all around: it sounded to me like there was perhaps even more evidence against the guy, and the stories the women told didn't match in any way. Today the galpal is claiming innocence again {6-year-old story} and appealing {2 year old case} based on more tales of self-implication on the mother. If I recall, my hunch was that it was the mom, the boyfriend, and maybe one of his brothers, with the second woman merely knowing about it but not a participant.

It may seem like a horrible irony, but recantation is a very problematic area of the law. If you're convicted on one set of evidence including a confession, and later you deny that confession, you're essentially saying that your testimony in either direction is unreliable; and courts take an especially dim view of that unreliability when it is the justification for your release. In the Virginia case, it is true that Omar Ballard has told a story in which he was the sole person present, but he has also told one in which he wasn't. That kind of discrepancy is easy to resolve one way if you're a cop or DA, easy to resolve the other if you're a civil rights activist. But it's certain we have a justice system that cannot be made perfect so that there are no false positives (innocent men convicted) or false negatives (guilty men free). The one thing I know is that I'd never sit in a police interrogation room answering questions about a murder without a lawyer present. That "can and will be used against you" part is no lie.
posted by dhartung at 11:24 PM on August 19, 2002


anecdotally, I recall from some of my history courses in college that there was a time during the Inquisition in Europe when those accused of being a demon or a witch could not be "saved" until they admitted to it. Fortunately....torture was an acceptable means by which to extract a confession....unfortunately those who confessed were then killed...

...they had a pretty good success rate in finding demons and witches, if I remember correctly.

That must have sucked so much, if they decided you must be a demon...now you're left with a choice: "Insist on your innocence...and die a long excruciatingly painful death...OR...confess that you are a demon, and die a short excruciatingly painful death..."

...humans are very clever in getting rid of people they don't like...although, one sometimes has to wonder if the inquisitors weren't themselves the demons...
posted by ruggles at 11:35 PM on August 19, 2002


mediareport, if you want to talk about the McDonalds coffee case, can you find a site to link to that isn't a shill for trial lawyers? Every time this case is brought up, someone will pipe up supporting the judgement, and linking to a trial lawyer-apologist site.

Is there anyone except trial lawyers and their entourage who has information that supports this judgement?

One reason I bring this up is that I've looked at a number of these sites, and they often contain frank misinformation, and are invariably extremely one-sided, simply ignoring data or ideas that doesn't support their claims. I.e., they written like lawyers think, not like ethicists, political scientists or policy wonks think.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 12:14 AM on August 20, 2002


This episode (Realaudio, 1 hr) of This American Life (which I've recently discovered, fallen in love with, and through the archives of which I have been working my way back) is relevant (DNA evidence, forced confessions, etc) perhaps, and very much worth listening to.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:55 AM on August 20, 2002


sacre blue:

... but I have no immediate problem if someone decides to do it

Problem No. 1 with railroading ignorant, innocent shitheads: The real criminal still runs free ... with a renewed sense of invulnerability.

do you bother to read entire posts? my entire sentence from my post: I don't understand why you would confess to something you didn't do, but I have no immediate problem if someone decides to do it (if the law is dumb enough to just accept that and leave a possibly dangerous offender out to commit more crimes just because they have it "all wrapped up", well that's another story).

not following along closely? Too fast for those at home? I said in my post that I can understand that if the police are trying to screw with you, or your confessing intentionally for a lighter sentence, I take that as a better reason. And even in the case of what I considerer dumb or crazy, I'm not saying they should get the sentences they (stupidly) confess to. But it's their own fault they got caught in the wheels of justice, and I really don't spend my time worrying about what happens to ignorant innocent shitheads.
posted by stifford at 6:09 AM on August 20, 2002


I hope for your own arrogant self-absorbed sake that you never fall afoul of the keepers of the peace through accident or intent or just being in the wrong place at the wrong time, stifford.

(But part of me kinda hopes that you do, and get so royally and randomly fucked by the cop-monsters that you end up confessing to murdering your own mother just to make them stop, and eventually spend the rest of your life trying to compensate for the arrogance that you displayed here.)
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:51 AM on August 20, 2002


If I can acknowlegde that their are situations where the police are trying to screw innocent people, why can't other people acknowlegde that there are situations where stupid and/or crazy people that confess to stuff that they didn't do (without the police "tricking" them in anyway) and that I don't care what happens to those people? 2 different situations.

It's like kids that hang out on rail-road tracks and get hit by trains in the night. I'm sure there are situations where someone's foot gets stuck and they can't move, or some other reasonable reason why they didn't get off the tracks. But some of them are just fucking stupid. Trains aren't quiet, and they don't swerve at you. The first group I might feel some compassion for, the second group I don't. If they didn't hang out on the tracks, they wouldn't be killed. If the "stupid-crazies" didn't walk into a police station and confess to something they didn't do, they wouldn't be caught up in the cruel justice system.

I'll let you know what happens if my mother gets murdered and I'm accused of the crime, but I'm reasonably sure I won't be confessing to the murder if I didn't do it.
posted by stifford at 7:19 AM on August 20, 2002


Oh please do find another example.

I won't, thanks, because the one I used is quite possibly the first thing many people will think of when asked to think about frivolous applications of the justice system. I am and was fully aware of the fact that many people believe it was a perfectly good suit, yet it remains a readily and widely recognized example, so there goes your "never again." very sad.
posted by Sapphireblue at 8:27 AM on August 20, 2002


A number of the residents of Tulia, Texas arrested in a 1999 drug sting appear to have pled guilty because it shaved years off their sentence. There was no physical evidence against the vast majority of those arrested (amounting to some 10% of the African-American population of Tulia), and the evidence in most cases boiled down to the word of a single cop, Tom Coleman (who later quit the force after it came out that he had stolen from his previous employer). But with few exceptions -- like the case of Tonya White, who could prove she was in Oklahoma City when Coleman said she was selling him cocaine in Tulia -- the defendants were found guilty. These were poor defendants (initially without access to committed legal counsel; can a public defender afford to send PIs to another state to start canvassing banks to find a cancelled check proving your innocence) in what looks to an outsider to have been basically a kangaroo court. If it looks like you're going to be serving time regardless of your actual guilt or innocence, why not plead guilty and knock twenty years off your term?

And Stifford, if someone is a serial confessor, there's probably something wrong in his or her head to begin with.
posted by snarkout at 10:27 AM on August 20, 2002


And Stifford, if someone is a serial confessor, there's probably something wrong in his or her head to begin with.

Yes! that's my point.

"that's what i've been trying to tell you all along. it's THE GANGS' money..." ---spanky

; )
posted by stifford at 11:14 AM on August 20, 2002


Slithy_Tove, can you provide a citation that refutes any of the details given by the linked page? The fact that the page is put out by a trial lawyer organization may be cause for suspicion, but a cause for suspicion is not a refutation.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:17 PM on August 20, 2002


"...he confesses and implicates his roommate. His roommate implicates three other men. Subsequent confessions from those men implicate a total of seven men."

OK, the next city that's looking for a "One Book" program, here's my recommendation.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:22 PM on August 20, 2002


Slithy_Tove: can you find a site to link to that isn't a shill for trial lawyers?

Oh, come on. We all know how to separate facts from bias by now, don't we? If I gave you a consumer group site, you'd just say it's a shill for consumers. What do you want? A conservative anti-trial lawyer site that presents a more complete story? Guess what: there is none. Every single site I've ever seen that tries to use the McDonald's coffee case as an example of a legal system gone awry *leaves out essential elements of the story*.

That should tell you something, Slithy_Tove. If you ever find more information about the case from a "tort reform" site, instead of deliberately misleading, incomplete spin, please feel free to let me know. Consumer groups and trial lawyers are not the ones distorting the court record in this case.

Sapphireblue: I am and was fully aware of the fact that many people believe it was a perfectly good suit, yet it remains a readily and widely recognized example

Of what? Certainly not what you said it was: a frivolous and needless tying up of justice. The facts presented have never been in dispute, Sapphireblue. To continue using the McDonald's coffee case as an example of something it's not -- simply because lots of people mistakenly believe it is -- is the height of intellectual dishonesty.
posted by mediareport at 4:06 PM on August 20, 2002


mediareport and DevilsAdvocate:

Let me give you just one example of what's wrong with the pro-lawyer site in question.

Plaintiff's expert, a scholar in thermodynamics as applied to human skin burns, testified that liquids, at 180 degrees, will cause a full thickness burn to human skin in two to seven seconds.

And what did the defendant's expert say?

The defendant's expert isn't even mentioned.

There's no attempt to explain the case, or its issues. No attempt to help the reader understand the two, or more, sides to the case. No attempt to figure out who was right and who was wrong, whose expert was really an expert, and whose (if not both) was a paid whore. (And there are many paid whores in the expert witness game. Please see Daubert vs. Merrill Dow, in which 'expert witnesses' testified with straight faces that p < 0.5 was significant (!), or read Huber's Galileo's Revenge. I suspect you've heard of it, though.)

Did the defense question the plaintiff's expert's credentials? Who was this unnamed man? What was his expertise? Why is he saying that hot liquids cause third degree burns when the usual medical teaching is that they cause second degree burns?

Was McDonalds exposing this woman to unusual risk? Of course not. We expose ourselves to boiling liquids all the time. Every time this woman made tea for herself, she risked spilling boiling water on herself. Every time she heated a can of soup. Every time she fried potatoes or made a roast, she exposed herself to liquids of far higher temperatures than boiling. Very high temperature liquids are common in food preparation. We need to be careful around them.

She wasn't. She's elderly, probably with poor circulation, and had an unusually bad injury. The frail elderly are subject to injuries. They try to do things they are no longer capable of doing. They stand on a chair to get a book from the closet, and fall and break their hips. They try clear the snow from their walk, and have a heart attack. They sometimes burn themselves with hot liquids. As this lady did.

But this time, there was someone with deep pockets to blame.

You can be sure the defendant's attorney made these kind of arguments in court. And you can be sure none of them appear on the pro-trial lawyer sites.

That's the problem with them. These sites are pure salesmanship. Theatre. Media. They're dramatic accounts of the evil giant corporation, and the helpless victim in its merciless grip. They make not the slightest attempt to be evenhanded. They omit any information or interpretation that might call their cause into question. In short, they act like a lawyer in court.

This is what I meant when I said that they were "written like lawyers think, not like ethicists, political scientists or policy wonks think." People who think seriously about public policy -- such as what duties should be imposed on business corporations -- usually make at least an attempt to be even-handed, and put their prejudices and pre-conceptions and self-interest (which we all have) aside as much as they can. Lawyers don't. Their duty is not to be even-handed, but to fight for their client's point of view by all legal means, and damn the consequences. And that's what the trial lawyers who sponsor this site are doing. They are ignoring anything that questions their view. And that's why this site is worthless and badly misleading.

posted by Slithy_Tove at 12:17 PM on August 21, 2002


the height of intellectual dishonesty

sky is falling. film at eleven.
posted by Sapphireblue at 1:42 PM on August 21, 2002


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