Douglas Starr, a medical journalist, has done a series of pieces for the New Yorker on medicine and justice. In the latest piece, he shows how medical evidence -- how technology -- can fail the system and end in serious errors hurting innocent people. He reveals the extent to which our justice system is failing you and me, Michael Brown and Eric Garner -- and, of course, the unfortunate many who are convicted and jailed as a result of carelessness or just plain lousy work.
One recent one particular case and one particular D.A.'s office in near Philadelphia. It is described in familiar language as "a classic organizational error: a series of small slip-ups that cascaded into an important mistake." Of course, all too often prosecutors are loathe to admit possible errors in a case they think they've wrapped up. But more often it's just, well, carelessness or the lack of concern about someone else's life going to hell.
The meetings showed [District Attorney Risa] Ferman that, even in a busy office like hers, she needed to create a step in which everyone could pause during certain complex or high-profile cases and have someone else take a fresh look at the evidence. She and her staff made structural changes, creating two new staff positions to offer independent review of such cases, and to serve as ombudsmen for attorneys who might have concerns. At the same time, the Montgomery County Detective Bureau formed a new division specifically to investigate cases involving violent crime and technology. Kerns, meanwhile, did not get off completely. He agreed to a plea deal with the Commonwealth in which he would spend fifteen years as a registered sex offender.
Howard Spivak, the deputy director of the National Institute of Justice, said that there’s “real excitement” about the results of these experiments. It won’t be easy for blame-free analyses to become the norm: unlike the transportation and medical industries, the legal system is inherently adversarial and resistant to self-evaluation. Yet the need for such reviews confronts us every day. As the recent U.S. Justice Department report on Ferguson has shown, the shooting of Michael Brown and the subsequent riots did not occur in a vacuum: systemic racism and revenue-oriented policing set the stage. Other cases, such as that of Eric Garner, who was suffocated by a New York police officer, also suggest the need for system-oriented analysis.
“You have to look at a whole range of questions,” Doyle told me. “What was the policy wisdom of criminalizing revenue offenses like selling loose cigarettes? Who made a command decision to clean up that corner? Did the officers get trained in deëscalation, and in the proper takedown techniques? Was there a better way to do this than the way it was done?" ...NewYorker
Sure. Just takes time, effort, and -- in many cases -- the willingness to face down racism in the system no less than inadequate training.