You’re guilty until proven innocent. It’s not something we proclaim out in the open here in the home of the brave and the land of the free. But it’s a fact. Prosecutors and defense attorneys know it. Cops know it. Judges know it. And if other factors are involved, such as race and poverty, the situation gets even worse.
Why am I thinking about this, or, it seems, ranting?
Well, I’m reviewing the Maurice Carter story. The publisher of my book SWEET FREEDOM has asked me to write and voice personal intros to each chapter of the book, for an “enhanced” e-book version that will be coming out. And so, during my brief vacation when I enjoy taking a little time to do some writing, I’m reliving the Maurice Carter story. Now the enjoyment is turning to renewed disgust.
Maurice Carter’s story demonstrates, once again, just how difficult it is to prove you are innocent once you get sucked into the so-called justice system. Not only that, it proves just how easy it is to get into prison, and just how difficult it is to get out. For those not familiar with the story, and my involvement in it, the late Maurice Carter served 29 years for a crime he did not commit. In the last decade of his life, I tried to help him.
Regardless of your innocence---
If cops with tunnel vision decide that you’re the perpetrator of a crime, facts are going to make little difference.
If Prosecutors with a win-at-any-cost mentality decide that you’re going to prison, they’ll find just enough alleged “facts,” just the right witnesses willing to shade the truth for a price, and just the right junk science to help their cause. You won’t have a prayer.
If you’re poor and must rely on court-appointed counsel, God help you! Back in the olden days in Berrien County, where Maurice was charged, tried and convicted, those lawyers hired by the county to defend alleged felons were low-bidders for the job. The man didn’t even meet with Maurice prior to his trial, and failed to cross examine the only witness to the crime, who swore that Maurice was not the perp!
If you are non-white, don’t expect to get a ruling from a jury of your peers. Maurice Carter’s jury was all-white, even though there were a few blacks in the jury pool. He was arrested by the Benton Harbor Police Department representing a populace that is almost entirely black, but that made little difference. White people decided his fate.
And once you’re in, it will take heaven and earth (plus a strong measure of divine intervention) to get you out again. Innocence has nothing to do with it.
I really don’t know how to put a positive spin on this blog, except that we are hearing more and more about wrongful convictions, Innocence Projects are working hard to get more and more exonerations, and some elements in the US judicial system seem to be moving toward genuine fairness.
Meanwhile, depending on whose figures you believe, between 3 and 15 percent of prisoners in our overcrowded institutions did not commit the crimes for which they are serving time.