Games Prosecutors Play

By Kaminer, Wendy | The American Prospect, September 1999 | Go to article overview

Games Prosecutors Play


Kaminer, Wendy, The American Prospect


The majority of prosecutors, police officers, and federal law enforcement agents are probably fair, ethical, and even compassionate public servants. But arrogance, righteousness, and a tendency to push people around are occupational hazards in law enforcement. Consider what Americans have learned in the past year.

Racial profiling is common on the nation's highways and streets and in its airports. State troopers and local police routinely harass and occasionally assault black and Latino drivers and male residents of inner-city neighborhoods, while U.S. customs officials single out racial minorities for degrading strip searches. Innocent people languish for years on death row because of police or prosecutorial misconduct. People guilty of minor, nonviolent offenses, or no offenses at all, are imprisoned for years by federal prosecutors who seek convictions at all costs, misleading grand juries, intimidating witnesses, encouraging perjury by informants, and suppressing exculpatory evidence.

You don't have to read ACLU newsletters or low-circulation progressive magazines to be aware of these abuses; they have been covered by the mainstream press. In the past year, NBC's Dateline ran a story about the targeting of black females by customs officials at Chicago's O'Hare airport, and the New York Times reported on racial profiling and the periodic exonerations of inmates on death row. Regional newspapers have also highlighted abuses by state and local prosecutors: a recent series of reports by the Chicago Tribune uncovered hundreds of state homicide cases involving serious misconduct by prosecutors nationwide. Time has expounded upon the failures and gross injustices of mandatory minimum sentences. PBS's Frontline has dramatically exposed the corrupting influence of informant testimony, routinely used in federal cases. And, in the wake of the Starr investigation, news stories, editorials, and op-ed pieces about prosecutorial misconduct, especially at the federal level, have appeared in national and local papers ranging from the Wall Street Journal to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. If Americans have less reason to fear each other now that violent crime has declined, they have more reason to fear the law enforcement bureaucracy.

THE INJUSTICE SYSTEM

This is, however, a bureaucracy that the public has demanded and helped shape by electing demagogues who promised to be tough on crime. In the past two decades, with apparent public approval, Congress has enacted laws greatly expanding federal criminal jurisdiction, restricting appeals of convictions, imposing harsh mandatory sentences on nonviolent offenders, and encouraging the states to pass their own mindless "three-strike" laws. These have resulted in life imprisonment for three-time felony offenders, regardless of the seriousness of their crimes. In a notorious California case, for example, a 27-year-old man was sentenced to 25 years to life for swiping a slice of pizza.

Some attribute the recent decrease in violent crime to an increase in the prison population occasioned by such laws [see Nicholas Confessore's "Prisoner Proliferation," page 69]. But violent crime is affected by numerous factors, notably demographic trends and police practices; the effects of imprisonment on crime are highly debatable. Prison terms increased dramatically during the 1980s--but while violent crime decreased in the early 1980s it rose in the latter half of the decade. A 1993 National Research Council report concluded that the lengthened sentences in the 1980s had little effect on crime, adding that "a 50% increase in the probability of incarceration would prevent twice as much violent crime as a 50% increase in the average term of incarceration."

But criminal justice policy has not reflected much rational analysis and is not simply focused on crime control. It is also an anti-vice crusade. Repressive criminal laws and practices initiated in recent years are weapons in an ongoing, consistently ineffective war against drugs--a war against some drugs, that is, like crack cocaine and marijuana. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Games Prosecutors Play
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.