False Convictions: Another Sorry Legacy of 'Progressivism'

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As many readers
know, I devote a large portion of my time — and my life — to advocating
for people who are charged with "crimes" they never committed,
and often "crime" that never even occurred. Lew Rockwell
graciously permitted me to use this page to advocate for the falsely-accused
Duke lacrosse players charged with raping a stripper five years
ago.

In retrospect,
Lew took a huge risk in permitting me to fire broadside after broadside
at the corrupt prosecutor, Michael Nifong, who brought the charges
and kept the case going. Lew also permitted me to take a hard look
at the politicized atmosphere at Duke University, which also drove
the false charges and exposed "elite" higher education
in a way that demonstrated just how fraudulent American colleges
and universities can be.

The charges
themselves were transparently false, and it was stunning to see
how the "professionals" in both Durham, North Carolina
(where the event happened), and in the news media tried to spin
established details and time into something that logically was impossible.
Yet, many people claimed that the very fact that the "professionals"
were claiming that the three lacrosse players had committed the
crimes for which they were charged was "proof" that everything
alleged was true.

However, in
the end it was the "professionals" who not only were lying,
but also were acting under outright delusion, and their delusion
was supported by other "professionals." On the outside,
people with no connection to the justice system, such as K.C. Johnson,
a history professor at Brooklyn College, were the people who were
most effective at tearing apart Nifong's case. (Johnson created
the popular Durham-in-Wonderland
blog from which he logically dissected the events as they occurred.

If one steps
back, one can see a curious contrast. On the one hand, the "professionals,"
people who were prosecutors, lawyers, judges, law professors, and
professional advocates for women were (for a long time) united in
their chorus of support for Nifong's case. On the other hand, people
from other occupations, students, and just observers knew quickly
that the charges were fraudulent and that Nifong and his "victim,"
Crystal Gail Mangum, were lying. (Some lawyers later turned against
Nifong and the attorneys representing the three accused young men
from the start were convinced of their innocence.)

Should one
step back even further, one can see a pattern emerging, one that
not only is disturbing but also one that has its roots in the Progressive
Movement of more than a century ago, when American intellectuals,
businessmen, and politicians joined to overthrow a social order
that was responsible for transforming American society from a backwoods,
agrarian country into an industrial powerhouse. While "Progressives"
were and are championed by the intellectual elite and media pundits
as "reformers" who are trying (against those backward
capitalists) to make society better, in reality they undermined
human liberty in order to impose an order that could move in no
direction but toward tyranny.

One of the
things "Progressives" did was to take many occupations
and "professionalize" them. They introduced occupational
licensing and they also were able to formalize and organize the
"justice" apparatus into a mechanism in which "professionals"
would transform the process of investigating crimes and seeking
judgment and punishment for perpetrators. Instead of having a system
that drew heavily upon community participation, "Progressives"
reasoned that the professional police, prosecutors, and "expert"
witnesses would not be bound by emotion but would act according
to their pure training and knowledge.

The system
we have today is one in which the "professionals" run
everything, from the police investigators to the judges and prison
administrators, and it simply is awful. Last year, when I covered
the Tonya
Craft trial and aftermath
in my blog, it really was a battle
between the "professionals" and people advocating for
the truth.

For example,
the prosecutors and the judge worked in tandem in order to try to
rig a guilty verdict (the "unprofessional" jurors refused
to go along with the scam and acquitted her), a police officer fabricated
a document in order to fill holes, and "professional"
child "advocates" insisted that the stories being told
about Craft's alleged child molesting were true. The jurors saw
through the whole thing and had concluded even before the prosecution
rested that the whole thing was bogus.

Wrongful accusations
and convictions often occur because the "professionals"
are able to convince jurors that the impossible really has to be
true — because the "professionals" say it is true. Because
"Progressivism" has been institutionalized to a point
where most people cannot imagine a society without its influences,
people are easily swayed by foolish arguments made by "professionals"
even when logic and reasoning tell them otherwise.

As I said at
the beginning, I am passionate about advocating for those who are
wrongly charged and those who are wrongly convicted. I can think
of no worse indictment upon a society than to say it is one in which
"justice" is turned upside down and perverted, and as
I see it, one of the main reasons that "justice" in America
is a crapshoot is the legacy of "Progressivism."

A recent book
by a former Ohio attorney general, Jim Petro, goes into detail about
wrongful convictions, and his verdict on American "justice"
is not good. False
Justice: Eight Myths that Convict the Innocent
lays out
reasons why Petro believes that tens of thousands of Americans are
in prison, wrongfully convicted.

Petro lays
out what he says are the myths about the system, and they are:

Myth 1:
Everyone in prison claims innocence.

Myth 2:
Our system almost never convicts an innocent person.

Myth 3:
Only the guilty confess.

Myth 4:
Wrongful conviction is the result of innocent human error.

Myth 5:
An eyewitness is the best testimony.

Myth 6:
Conviction errors get corrected on appeal.

Myth 7:
It dishonors a victim to question a conviction.

Myth 8:
If the justice system has problems, the pros will fix them.

Steve Weinberg's
review
of the book
goes into more detail about each of these myths,
but he wrongly lays the problem at the feet of political conservatives
— even though conservatives have played an important role in this
sorry affair. Indeed, every one of these myths exists because the
"pros" have helped to create them.

As I read through
Weinberg's review, I realize that it is the "professionals,"
from police to the appellate judges, which have institutionalized
injustice to a point where it has become an integral part of the
system. Indeed, the very fact that they can do these things with
impunity, knowing they almost never will be disciplined at any level
for wrongdoing, only ensures that injustices will increase.

One of the
things that "Progressives" believed was that "public
servants" always (or at least mostly) would act "in the
public interest" and not seek self-rewards. We do see the political
classes in this country, along with other "Progressives"
such as college faculty members and media figures lay this "public
interest" mantle upon themselves, declaring that they are "public
servants" who are preserving all that is good in society.

The truth is
much different. Like all other human beings, "public servants"
are self-interested and all-too-often, the "public interest"
fervor with which they supposedly operate is transformed into careerism
and self-aggrandizement that serves as what Murray N. Rothbard called
"psychic profit" for their actions. Because this problem
is deeply institutionalized in American society, it almost is impossible
to uproot it, which means in the "justice" system that
exonerating the innocent is almost impossible.

For example,
even though it was obvious that the charges against Tonya Craft
were fabricated, she had to spend upwards of a million dollars
in order to defend herself, and even then her money ran out. The
state agents bringing the case, however, were financed by tax dollars
and did not have to worry about spending a penny of their own funds.
The Duke defendants spend even more than a million dollars apiece,
even though the charges were transparently false from the beginning.
From the "professional" medical personnel that helped
get the ball rolling in the Craft and Duke cases to the "professional"
child counselors and police and prosecutors, we see that through
each step, the "professionals" demonstrated themselves
to be incapable of doing real research and investigations and were
nothing more than cogs in an accusation machine.

This financial
disconnect alone is a huge reason that there are wrongful convictions,
and the fact that prosecutors, police, and judges are protected
from being charged with wrongdoing no matter how dishonest or outrageous
their misconduct provides only more incentive for the "professionals"
to steamroll the innocent into prison and to the death chambers.
Convictions are politically popular, so even when a prosecutor gets
a wrongful conviction or wrongly brings charges, there generally
is no price for him or her to pay.

In establishing
the various institutions that now permeate our society today, "Progressives"
believe that they were providing the nation with a system in which
competent "professionals" would guide and order our lives.
Instead, they created a system in which "professionals"
can be petty dictators, telling others what to do, destroying lives
in the process, and exacting tribute from their victims.

Wrongful
convictions existed before the Progressive Era, but the wrongness
was not institutionalized the way it is now. This state of affairs
does not exist because people make genuine errors in judgment or
identification, but rather because it is in the interest of those
who are employed by this system to put innocent people on trial,
falsely accuse them, and throw them into prison.

Furthermore,
the "professionals" in the system tend to watch out for
each other. The courts have given prosecutors such immunity that
it has become clear that even when they engage in criminal behavior,
as was the case that was at the center of the U.S. Supreme Court's
outrageous Connick
v. Thompson
decision, the authorities have their backs.

As I noted
before, the Progressive Era did not create injustice, but it managed
to institutionalize the processes through which injustices occur.
We now are at the mercy of "professionals" who are worse
than the worst of the lynch mobs and "experts" who are
worse than amateurs when it comes to evaluating evidence. All that
is left is raw state power, and the "Progressives" made
sure that we would forever be subject to that.

April
5, 2011

William
L. Anderson, Ph.D. [send him
mail
], teaches economics at Frostburg State University in Maryland,
and is an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig
von Mises Institute
. He
also is a consultant with American Economic Services. Visit
his blog.

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