Why Should We Worry About Our Criminal Justice System?

In this article, Eugene Volokh summarizes an article by Judge Alex Kozinski, a conservative federal judge in the U.S. court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, about problems with today’s criminal justice system. It is interesting because the 12 points Volokh makes have to do with our preconceived notions of what occurs in a courtroom, rather than what actually takes place.

Here are the worries that Volokh lists:

  1. Witnesses are highly unreliable.
  1. Fingerprint evidence collected at the scene of a crime has a significant error rate.
  1. Other types of forensic evidence, such as voice and handwriting identification, also have a significant error rate.
  1. DNA evidence can be easily contaminated, yielding incorrect results.
  1. Human memories have been proven to change over time.
  1. It is not unusual for innocent people to confess to a crime in order to end the process, or due to harsh interrogation tactics.
  1. We do not know if jurors follow all of the instructions they are given when deciding a defendant’s innocence or guilt.
  1. Prosecutors often seek convictions, rather than justice.
  1. In our criminal justice system, the prosecution is supposed to be at a disadvantage because it has to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, but we do not know whether juries follow this instruction, or whether they are able to distinguish between reasonable doubt and any other type of doubt.
  1. Law enforcement officers are not always objective; it can be easy for them to create or destroy evidence.
  1. A defendant who pleads guilty is not necessarily guilty.
  1. The threat of long sentences does not necessarily deter crime.

For more opinions about our criminal justice system, check out the Washington Post’s The Volokh Conspiracy.

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