As great as the political system of the United States is, there is a distinct flaw in our system of justice. That is the politicization of justice. It works like this:
Prosecution of criminals is done by officials known as District Attorneys or Prosecuting Attorneys. Prosecutors have full control over who is charged, what cases go to court, and what evidence is either presented or not presented. I know all this because I watched many episodes of Law and Order.
Here is where the flaws come in. First, prosecutors are elected officials. Second, we rate how effective prosecutors are by how many convictions they get. A good prosecutor needs a good conviction rate so that he/she will get re-elected. Often this conviction rate comes at the expense of true justice. It’s becoming less a matter of ‘did the accused commit the crime’ and more of ‘can we improve our conviction rate’?
There is no incentive in trying a case unless there is a good chance of conviction, as losing may lower one’s conviction rate and one’s ability to get re-elected. Conversely, a quick conviction against some poor sap unable to afford a proper legal defense becomes an all too tantalizing prospect. Guilt becomes secondary to successful prosecution.
Bonus points if you can nail a celebrity. Your next election campaign benefits from all the free publicity provided by an obsessed media. Better yet, a high profile trial may yield a multi-million dollar book deal such as the ones awarded to Marcia Clark or Vincent Bugliosi the prosecutors of O.J. Simpson and Charles Manson respectively.
By making prosecutors beneficiaries of a popular election, have we have incented them to use that office to further their own causes? Do we still have a system that actually protects the innocent, or one that gives rogue prosecutors the fuel to operate their own self-serving brand of justice?
We need to re-examine our system of making prosecutors elected officials and think about having them earn their positions through merit and appointment. Perhaps we could even throw in a moratorium on book deals.