Friday, December 05, 2003

Defect rates in American justice: 10-15% in the most severe cases

Bob Herbert, NYT: Returned to Life
In an interview, Professor Protess said he initially was surprised by the number of cases he and his students encountered in which the prisoners were innocent. "I'd always thought that miscarriages of justice were an aberration and that our justice system, overwhelmingly, worked well," he said. "But I was seeing error rates of 10 to 15 percent. I was very struck by how pervasive the problem was."

I asked if he thought any innocent people had actually been executed.

"Oh, absolutely," he said. "There's just no question."

We know error rates in medicine are reasonably high. The justice system is no better, and probably worse. Any system will err to either false positive (imprisonment and/or execution) or false negative (acquittal of the guilty); justice is supposed to err to false negative (innocent until proven guilty, beyond a reasonable doubt, etc), but in the US that's not working. Instead we err towards false conviction.

I am reasonably confident that George Bush doesn't give a damn.

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