Preserving Public Trust and Confidence in the Criminal Justice System

By Sobel, Allan D. | Judicature, January/February 2004 | Go to article overview

Preserving Public Trust and Confidence in the Criminal Justice System


Sobel, Allan D., Judicature


If word leaked out that a local garage failed to fix the brakes on a few customers' cars, and the customers were involved in fatalities when their brakes failed, it would not take long for the garage to lose business. If it was established that a surgeon botched a few surgical cases resulting in unnecessary deaths, it would not take long for the surgeon's practice to suffer. Now that it has been widely reported and undeniably established that the criminal justice system has not prevented the wrongful conviction of factually innocent people, and in some cases sentenced them to death, many are questioning the system's reliability. After all, the bottom line is that we need to have a high level of trust and confidence in the businesses, professionals, and systems to which we entrust our most important matters.

Unlike a car repair or surgery, there are many primary actors involved in the process referred to as the criminal justice system; including victims, other witnesses, law enforcement officials, crime lab scientists, prosecutors, victims' rights advocates, defense attorneys, private investigators, and judges. Generally speaking, these are well-intentioned people, and the professionals among them adhere to the highest ethical standards. Unfortunately, even well-meaning individuals make mistakes, and the likelihood of mistakes increases exponentially when professionals are overloaded with cases and under-funded, as is typical for too many jurisdictions in America. While customers of business establishments and patients of physicians generally have alternative providers to choose from, for better or worse participants in the criminal justice system do not, even when the system is overloaded and there is evidence of systemic defects.

To retain the public's trust and confidence in our criminal justice system, proactive efforts are required at this time; which should include a review of select wrongful conviction cases by well-respected professionals representing the various component parts of the system to determine whether systemic defects contributed to the conviction and, if so, whether reforms might be implemented to correct such defects. …

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