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."

False Justice: Eight M... Jim Petro, Nancy Petro Best Price: $5.00 Buy New $19.99 (as of 06:05 EST - Details)

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