Flaws Run Deep in the Justice System 

Flaws Run Deep in the Justice System 
Posted by FoM on February 11, 2000 at 11:11:45 PT
By Michael P. Judge
Source: Los Angeles Times
 Los Angeles' spreading police corruption scandal is not surprising in light of the way the justice system has been dangerously tilted in favor of police and prosecutors. We must take stock of what has happened and restore some balance before it is too late. 
   First up on the agenda must be to make sure that only the most talented and ethical officers are permitted to supervise and lead other officers. After graduation from the Police Academy, the formal training of rookie cops is over and the real-world mentoring by training officers and more experienced partners gets underway. The sergeants who supervise these officers set the tone by what they will tolerate and where they draw the line. Unless we put our focus on these leaders, there is no realistic assurance that systemic corruption can ever be controlled at its source.   But there are many grave problems subsequent to a defendant's arrest. One of the most serious involves the adoption in 1990 of Proposition 115, which allows a police officer not present for an arrest to recount hearsay evidence at a preliminary hearing. Such a procedure renders useless the important check and balance of cross-examination, because these officers are in no position to know anything other than what they are reading into the court record.   While it is true that hearsay still is not permitted at trial, police officers are fully aware that, of the more than 40,000 preliminary hearings in Los Angeles County each year, fewer than 3,000 result in actual trials in felony cases. Corrupt officers know that the heavy odds are that they will never be cross-examined under oath in these matters.   Even more alarming, the use of grossly excessive sentences for relatively minor crimes has debased our plea bargaining system to the point where even innocent people feel they must plead guilty. For example, an innocent defendant facing 25-to-life for possession of a small quantity of drugs that had been planted on him may feel forced to accept a plea for four or six years in prison. Even if a case goes to trial, corrupt officers are smugly aware that the judge and/or jury will take the word of the cops.   Nor is there a political will to address these problems. Elected officials are so fearful of being perceived as not being tough enough on crime that there has been dead silence on important issues from almost all of them. For example, no legislator has been willing to carry a bill that would correct a grossly unfair situation in which police are allowed to destroy their raw notes on a case. These notes are valuable resources for defense attorneys, sometimes showing crossed-out or corrected information, slang or epithets that reveal a bias or information that an officer may not recognize as important at the time of arrest but which may turn out to be critical during a defense investigation. Our political leaders should take their wet fingers out of the air and do the right thing by correcting this and other wrongs.   We also must stop the intimidation of judges who on occasion doubt police credibility and who thereafter are falsely labeled "soft on crime," which can affect their electability. Decisions to exclude a judge from any criminal case must be made at the executive level of the district attorney's office in order to ensure accountability and promote judicial independence.   The failure by our elected political leaders to adequately address the Rampart scandal reveals much about the political environment on which corrupt officers rely. The fact that police officers have planted evidence, written false police reports, committed perjury and covered up unjustified shootings reveals mountains about how they perceived the environment in which they work. Clearly they were convinced they could get away with it even when innocent people were convicted. That must not be allowed to continue. Michael P. Judge Is the Los Angeles County Public DefenderPublished: February 11, 2000Copyright 2000 Los Angeles TimesCannabisNews Articles On Corruption & Police Related Articles:
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