File Size: 3077 KB
Print Length: 320 pages
Publisher: Vintage (February 21, 2012)
Publication Date: February 21, 2012
"Anatomy of Injustice" examines funds punishment, the fairness of our criminal justice system by provocatively dissecting the case of Edward Elmore. Right after reading this book, I'd hope even the most hardened capital punishment advocate recognizes the flaws and problems with our current system. This is the system that led someone like former Illinois Governor Ryan, a previously staunch capital punishment supporter, to suspend the death charges for the reason that state. Elmore's situation touches on all the aspects of the dying penalty for the reader to reflect and consider. Really does the death penalty disproportionately get applied to weak, minority criminals? Do these individuals get sufficient counsel? Has our criminal proper rights system become too adversarial rather than seeking the truth? How do we handle prosecutorial overreach and the denial of basic consitutional rights?
These are all questions worth inquiring, not at the cost of victims and their households, but to ensure the system upholds the standards the founders established in the Constitution and the citizens of this country expect. As a community, if we decide the just punishment for heinous crimes is death, we can demand that the personal being put to dying is guilty of the crimes and the system has enough checks and balances to prevent an innocent life from being taken. "Anatomy of Injustice" might not exactly change your brain on the death charges ---it didn't change mine --- but it certainly forces one to question whether the way our system is functioning today is acceptable., When I was much younger, in what I refer to because the "College Republican" period of my life, I supported the death charges. It has been almost 20 years since I ceased to do so; when I switched sides with this issue, I did so because I came to understand the flaws in our criminal justice system, and in particular in the administration of the dying penalty--flaws which I have concluded are irreparable. This particular excellent book identifies many of those flaws, and I commend it to any reader enthusiastic about our criminal justice system and in trying to ensure it is functionality in a way that is truly just.
The particular injustice which the title of this book refers to was inflicted on Edward Lee Elmore. In 1982, Elmore, a then 23-year-old African American from Greenwood, South Carolina, was arrested for the homicide of your elderly white woman, Dorothy Edwards, for whom he had recently done some home maintenance work. He was convicted of the woman murder and sentenced to the death penalty. Elmore then spent roughly 35 years in prison, almost all of on dying row. While neither I nor any reader can conclude with 100% assurance which he was not responsible, it is hard to avoid the conclusion, after reading Raymond Bonner's book, that Elmore was most likely innocent of the crime which is why he put in years in prison and almost was executed for, and that another person murdered Dorothy Edwards and got away with it. It is my opinion that this is what happened.
Raymond Bonner is an experienced journalist and a very good writer, the author of excellent books on many subjects. He is also a former lawyer and law professor. As such, he is well prepared to write a book like this. He skillfully guides the reader through both the factual record and the potentially confusing legal issues. Thanks to his superiority as a writer, we come with a real feel for the flesh-and-blood people engaged in the case, especially Elmore and his most tenacious defender, legal professional Diana Holt. As I noted above, Bonner highlights several defects in the criminal proper rights system, flaws which I believe make our current death penalty hopelessly unjust, and which I think are grounds for permanently abolishing the death charges.
First, you are able to be found guilty of a serious offense, even a capital offense, based on very sketchy evidence. The key evidence presented against Elmore can be summed up as follows: 1) just one thumbprint identified as his was found on the outside of Edwards' house, which was reasonably the result of the maintenance work he got previously done; 2) the clothes he was putting on were found to have a few tiny specks of Type A blood, a blood type Edwards shared with about 40% of the population, and which was not Elmore's blood type; 3) the local medical examiner offered the opinion that enough time of death was on a Saturday night during a period when Elmore got no alibi; 4) a police forensic expert testified that the number of hairs entered into evidence were, first, pubic hairs found on Edwards' bed, and second, that these hairs were probably, but not certainly, Elmore's; 5) a jail inmate who got been in jail with Elmore got on the witness stand and declared that Elmore had revealed the murder to him or her.
As a corollary to this, it's important to note evidence that was not offered at Elmore's trial: 1) fingerprints were found inside Edwards' house that were not Elmore's or the victim's, but a 3 rd party's; 2) Pubic hairs retrieved from Edwards' body (not her bed) were founded definitively to be Black (meaning they weren't Elmore's), and not from Edwards herself. This evidence was not presented at the trial because the law enforcement and prosecutors, in infringement of well-established, unambiguous legislation, did not turn it over to the defense attorneys.
This leads into the second major flaw in the system, the insufficiency of the representation received by many criminal defendants. While it's conceivable when the jury hearing Elmore's case had included a few tough-minded skeptics, they may have identified the weaknesses in the prosecution situation with no guidance, our legal system puts the primary responsibility for doing so on defense attorneys. Certainly, a competent defense legal professional could have torn many holes in the criminal prosecution case. For instance, a competent attorney, even working against the handicap of not seeing the illegally suppressed evidence I recently described, could have pointed out there the implausibilities in the prosecution's scenario for the crime: Why did Elmore have only tiny specks of blood on his clothes, when the victim bled profusely? Why was there no blood at all on his white shirt, particularly if he taken her to the cabinet where her body was found? Why, if the crime took place on Edwards' bed, was not one of her blood found there? Why were no photographs taken of the pubic hairs supposedly found on the bed, as opposed to fundamental rules of offense scene examination? Likewise, a reliable defense legal professional could have had an independent expert look at the pathological evidence, and point out that the main evidence, namely the state of Edwards' body, pointed firmly towards a time of death on Sunday evening (when Elmore had a strong alibi). It could then have further already been pointed out that the medical examiner's contrary opinion about the time of death was based largely on trivia, like the reality that the victim's TELEVISION Guide was available to the Saturday night listings (all of this was founded later, during one of Elmore`s appeal proceedings). Lastly a good defense legal professional could have discredited the accounts of the snitch, possibly even gotten him to admit, as he in reality did admit years later, that his testimony was made up.
Unfortunately, Elmore did not have proficient representation during his trials. His primary legal professional was your local public defender, Geddes Anderson. Anderson was an alcoholic, and was through at least one criminal prosecution witness, a state police private investigator, to have been drunk in court everyday of the trial. Anderson was assisted by a sub-par local attorney, John Beasley, who refereed to his client as "a redheaded n---er. " Certainly, in a fair system of justice, Anderson's alcoholism in and of itself would be sufficient to ascertain that Elmore did not have sufficient representation. Leaving aside Anderson's drunkenness and Beasley's borderline racism, their performance in the trial was terrible. They raised none of the issues I note above. Their cross-examination of almost every prosecution witness was perfunctory. It is no surprise which he was found guilty in two criminal trials (the verdict from the first trial was overturned owing to carry out by the judge which was so unfair and discriminatory that it could not be ignored. Amazingly, this judge, one E. D. Burnett, proceeded to be appointed towards the south Carolina Supreme Court).
This matter of inadequate representation is endemic all through the criminal justice system, and is a particular taint on the administration of the death penalty. Stephen Bright, one of the most experienced attorneys in the country in dealing with death penalty cases, has researched this issue. His conclusion is that what happens in practice is that people are sentenced to death "not for the worst crime, but for the worst lawyer. " Whenever we are to retain capital punishment, than one mandatory aspect for it to be a just punishment is that it must be reserved for the worst offenders. This is clearly not the situation.
This leads into the 3 rd major flaw which Bonner brings out. Once someone has been found guilty in a test court, then no matter how weak the situation against them, no matter what exculpatory evidence relates to light after the trial, no matter how procedurally flawed the trial was, it is extremely, very hard to get the verdict of the test court overturned. Appellate tennis courts use a standard of what is called "deference to the trial court" when it comes to informative findings. This means that the appellate judge or judges generally will not review the facts of a case and make their own judgment about the innocence or guilt of the defendant; rather, they will accept the findings of fact by the trial judge and/or court, even if they find them questionable.
To a certain extent, such an strategy is defensible. The problem that the Elmore situation shows is that appellate courts have become much, much too far in their deference to trial tennis courts. If all Elmore got done in his is attractive was to effectively say "Hey, how about if you judges take a second look at the same exact facts that the jury in my trial heard, and let me go nearby agree with them, " then assuming no other procedural errors in the test (a big assumption, as I`ll discuss in a moment), the appellate court would be justified in its deference. However, Elmore did far more than that. In his appeals, this individual demonstrated that 1) much of the evidence against him in the trial was flawed--the snitch was perjuring themselves by his own admission, the medical examiner's approximated moments of death was not justifiable using the physical evidence, etc., which 2) there were significant items of exculpatory evidence which were held out of his test because the police and prosecution hid them from his defense attorneys. In order to my mind, either of these demonstrations must have already been sufficient to warrant buying a new trial for Elmore; both of them together should have become him a fresh trial.
The particular other issue with appellate courts that Elmore's situation highlights is the extreme difficulty of getting a verdict overturned when a defendant's attorneys do not do their jobs properly. The deference that appellate courts generally show to the trial courts' informative conclusions is just justified on the assumption that every defendant is getting a proficient, vigorous defense. I'm positive that almost all of us would agree when your legal professional is drunk in court every day, as Geddes Anderson was, they are clearly not capable of representing you effectively--we'd expect that any case where that happened would automatically result in a new test. The reality is completely different. A few minutes of googling led me to numerous cases from different parts of the ALL OF US where appellate courts refused a new trial even when they acknowledged it turned out demonstrated that the defense legal professional was "drunk on duty, " as it were (in one situation, the legal professional had actually been arrested for drunk driving in the middle of the trial). Likewise, I found cases where appellate courts ruled that the following circumstances would not constitute ineffective representation: attorneys in multiple cases who slept through significant servings of the trial, an legal professional who was heading senile and was suffering from severe physical illnesses, and an legal professional who was insane and openly discussed his paranoid delusions in court. Leaving aside whether the defendants in these cases were actually guilty or not, the fact is that we as citizens need to be able to have confidence in our court system, and when people are represented by attorneys who are drunk, insane, senile or merely sleeping, it is completely impossible for any sensible person to have that confidence.
But the situation of ineffective counsel is even worse. It's not just that drunken or senile attorneys are representing people. The particular key Supreme Court situation on this issue, Strickland v. Washington, opens a whole additional can of worms. Strickland requires that an appellate court find, before giving a defendant a new trial, in addition to that their legal professional was seriously ineffective, but that there is a considerable probability that the inadequate assistance had an result on the verdict. This particular allows appellate courts an immense amount of shake room to ignore inadequate representation, by declaring that "it wouldn't have impacted the verdict. " Proper rights Thurgood Marshall, dissenting in case, pointed out the situation with this standard--the justness of the court system is dependent not only on reaching the right outcomes, but on reaching them through recognizably fair procedures. I agree with Marshall--the ability of ordinary citizens to possess confidence in our contencioso system rests on our perception that individuals, along with our family, friends, co-office workers, etc., will get a fair deal if actually we find ourselves in court.
One issue that Bonner does not spend a sizable amount of time is solutions. Abolishing funds punishment would clearly make our system of proper rights more fair, by reducing the potential for the ultimate injustice--the execution of someone who is innocent. Nevertheless that by itself would not solve the problems Bonner identifies. A few further steps come to a brain:
1) We need to implement strong measures to prevent police and prosecutors from keeping exculpatory evidence from defense attorneys. Elmore's case is not an isolated one; evidence is withheld, hidden, destroyed, etc., all over the country. Nate Blakeslee's book Tulia: Race, Cocaine, and Corruption in a Texas Area is an outstanding account of how dozens of criminal convictions were obtained, in part because the area prosecutor withheld significant evidence on a systematic basis. I do believe any prosecutor who actively participates in withholding evidence should be disbarred (as happened to Robert Nifong of Duke lacrosse case infamy). Police representatives who actively participate in withholding evidence should be fired and barred for life from working in law enforcement. Needless to say, if police or prosecutors go beyond withholding evidence and actually fabricate evidence (as also happened in Tulia), even more powerful steps, including criminal charges, should be taken.
2) The proper rights system as a whole needs to seriously reduce its reliance on the testimony of jailhouse informants, aka "snitches. " Many studies have shown that testimony by lying snitches is 1 of the leading causes of wrongful croyance in capital cases in the US. Alexandra Natapoff's excellent book Snitching: Criminal Informants and the Erosion of American Proper rights describes a lengthy catalogue of problems with the use of informants in law enforcement and the criminal proper rights system. In the long run, police and prosecutors must stop counting so much on difficult to rely on informants, but in the shorter term, judges and juries can nudge them in the right direction by treating the claims of snitches with extreme skepticism.
3) Most important, we need to ensure that anyone charged with a serious crime, whether it carries a potential dying sentence or not, obtains competent, effective legal portrayal throughout the process. I mentioned the Duke lacrosse case above, in which a politically ambitious prosecutor pursued false charges of rape against three Duke students, and persisted in pursuing the case significantly, far beyond the point where there was any reasonable basis for pondering the students guilty of a crime. If these three young men got not received high-quality legal representation from the moment they were snared by the tentacles of the justice system, they might have eliminated the pattern of Edward Lee Elmore or maybe the Tulia defendants, and been convicted of crimes they were doing not commit. Each defendant should be symbolized as ably. As I said above, without that, we can't have confidence that our judicial system is fair.
One way to nudge state and local authorities into ensuring that this can be the case is for appellate courts to be much more vigorous in upholding the rights of defendants to effective representation. Unnecessary to say, if an legal professional is found to be drunken, mentally ill, etc. during a test, that should be automated grounds for giving a defendant a new trial. Also, Strickland versus. Washington should be overruled, either by the Supreme Court reversing itself or by statute. Until that happens, appellate courts should be much more ready to conclude that ineffective portrayal has prejudiced the verdict in a case, using the wiggle room in the Strickland decision to produce more justice, not less.
4) Finally, all of us, as voters, can do our part. We have to stop being lured by "tough on crime" rhetoric from politicians, and start paying attention to those elected officials, all too few these days and nights, who respect the right of everyone to because of process of law. When politicians promise to "reform" items to make it better to execute people, we need to vote them out there of office, not into office. When candidates go ballistic about "judicial activism" after a court safeguards the rights of a defendant, we need to vote against them, designed for them.
I've wandered away from directly talking about Bonner's book for a bit, so let myself close by returning to it. Bonner ends his story in late 2011, when a panel from your fourth Circuit Court of Is of interest, probably the most traditional of the federal routine courts, ruled by a 2-1 majority that Elmore was entitled to a fresh trial. The majority opinion meticulously catalogues the many injustices which have already been inflicted on Elmore; the dissent by Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson is very brief, and I do not find it at all convincing. After Bonner's book went to press, the final resolution of the case took place. South Carolina authorities had talked of appealing the case to the ALL OF US Supreme Court, rather than either giving Elmore the new trial ordered by the 4th Circuit, or acknowledging the injustice they had done him by dropping the charges and freeing him (which in my opinion is what they should have done). In the end, they took a rather craven 3 rd option. They offered Elmore the chance to enter a so-called "Alford Plea. " An Alford Plea, as I understand it, requires the defendant making a technical plea of responsible while still maintaining his or her innocence. In return for creating this plea, the state agreed to a sentence equal to the time Elmore got already served (roughly 35 years). As a effect, Elmore was set free after 30 years in prison for a offense that he almost certainly would not commit.
Meanwhile, not one of the many South Carolina officials who played a part--whether through malice, indifference to proper rights, incompetence, or any other cause--in this travesty of justice has paid any sort of price. With one or two partial exceptions--I think generally of one state judge who overturned Elmore's death phrase, although not his certainty, because Elmore was found to be mentally retarded--none of the South Carolina officials involved in this case can take any pride in their actions, and many of them should be forever ashamed of their conduct.
Edward Lee Elmore is currently free, but it cannot be said that he received proper rights. The system failed him or her, repeatedly. At the same time, the system also failed Dorothy Edwards, and her family and others who loved her. With regard to it is extremely likely that someone murdered the woman and got away with it.
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