Monday, February 09, 2009

Justice Comes Too Late

It's bad enough when someone spends years in prison for a crime they did not commit. It can wreck their lives, not to mention the lives of family and friends, but at least they get to one day walk free. Timothy Cole never will. He was exonerated last week in Texas for a rape he didn't commit, but he died in prison in 1999. TalkLeft and NPR have the details of a story the judge called "the saddest case" he'd ever seen.

Using the case as a jumping off point, Dan Solove at Concurring Opinions raises a troublesome issue:

This case illustrates how our criminal justice system punishes the innocent more harshly than the guilty.
It's frightening, but true. How may times have we had an execution that nobody will stop because the condemned won't "admit what he did"? On a more industrial level, the Sentencing Guidelines, as Solove points out, encourage guilty pleas and punish going to trial.

Some type of systemic reform is necessary, but it's not really clear what it should be. Eliminate guilty pleas? Do away with sentencing benefits for pleading guilty? I don't know. But before anything changes, more people will have to start caring about the problem. I won't hold my breath in anticipation.

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