17
Apr
12

“We don’t have to care; we’re the Justice Department”

This goes beyond the principal-agent problem into unadulterated amoral groupthink:

Radley quotes a WaPo story thus:

Justice Department officials have known for years that flawed forensic work might have led to the convictions of potentially innocent people, but prosecutors failed to notify defendants or their attorneys even in many cases they knew were troubled.

[...]

Justice Department officials said that they met their legal and constitutional obligations when they learned of specific errors, that they alerted prosecutors and were not required to inform defendants directly.

Riiight.  You told prosecutors that their evidence was potentially bogus and expected… what, exactly, to happen?

Does this remind anyone else of Joe Paterno’s reaction to discovering that Mark Sandusky was fucking little boys in his gym’s showers?  “Welp, passed it on up the chain of command, not my problem any more.”

Balko:

Taxpayer-paid employees of the Justice Department had direct and exclusive knowledge that there may be hundreds of innocent people in prison, they knew that flawed forensics in these cases needed to be reviewed, and their justification for not doing more as these people continued to rot in prison was, Hey, we did the bare minimum required of us by law.

[...]

But even beyond the problematic ethical requirements, I’m having a hard time fathoming how no one on this task force felt morally compelled to go beyond those requirements—to, you know, actually reach out defense attorneys, or attempt to actually reach the convicts or their families. How in the world can you possess this sort of information, then still sleep at night, year after year, knowing that (a) the information obviously isn’t reaching the people who have an incentive to actually put it to use,  (b) you’re one of the few people who could make that happen, and (c) because the information was only available to select group of people, if you or one of your colleagues doesn’t act, no one else will?

(Emphasis in the original.)

Behold, dear readers, the power of group affiliation.  Those federal prosecutors who landed convictions based on bad evidence are Us, and the defence attorneys and wrongfully-convicted men and women are Them.  This one’s pretty easy to sort out, and utterly horrifying.


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