I work as a criminal defense attorney. Recently I pretried a case with a judge. We were standing up at the bench, and the assistant D.A. and judge were giving their opinions on what time the defendant should do. The judge looked at me for a response, and I said, “But my client didn’t do it.”
This made the judge smirk. “Come on, Charlie,” he told me. He continued to shake his head as I continued to say my client was innocent.
Such are the perceptions of people involved in the criminal justice system. But frequently the innocent are accused. And often defendants, by newly found evidence, are cleared of charges after spending years in prison.
Ryan Ferguson is the latest example. He was recently released from prison in Missouri after spending close to ten years on a murder conviction. Now a young man, he was a teenager at the time of his incarceration. He had been convicted on scant evidence. The only compelling evidence against him was the testimony of his co-defendant, and this was subsequently recanted.
So a number of lives are significantly wasted on weak evidence. But it is too easy to speak angrily or point fingers in response to these false convictions. Police officers and prosecutors have the important work of protecting society against its predators. It is a tough balance to view society’s interest against the potential innocence of suspects.
Yet the law is not merely a search for justice. It is a search for the truth. Police officers, prosecutors, judges, jurors and the other members of society, should keep their minds open to evidence that may contradict their formed conclusions.
And on the other side of it, we on the defense bar need to remain vigilant.