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Never Trust a Government Conviction

October 22nd, 2009

From The Independent Institute

Megan Williams now says she was lying all along when accusing seven men of kidnapping, sexually abusing and assaulting her. The seven plead guilty to charges two years ago.

Indeed, “former Logan County prosecutor Brian Abraham, who was in charge of the case, said no one ever went to jail because of Williams’ statements. Instead, Abraham said Tuesday night, he decided early in the case not to rely on Williams’ statements, but on the physical evidence and the statements of the co-defendants.”

And what did the defendants admit to? “According to the admissions of those eventually convicted, Williams was physically and sexually abused. She was beaten repeatedly, held against her will, burned with hot wax, stabbed in the leg, and forced to perform oral sex on at least two defendants.”

So let me get this straight. The supposed victim claims all the crimes were made up, yet government officials claim that the evidence apart from her accusations — as in, the evidence of something that Williams now admits never happened — was enough to send them to prison.

Now, if something did not happen, and prosecutors claim the evidence and the process were still legally sufficient to put innocent people in jail, then the entire system isn’t even theoretically just.

Williams’s attorney muses, “It sounds to me that there are innocent people held in jail for something they did not do. I have no idea what convinced them to plead guilty.”

Well, I have an idea. The entire criminal justice system, like any socialist institution, is inherently rigged against actual justice. And so most people sent to prison never enjoy a trial, but instead are bullied into pleading guilty because they know their chances with a trial are slim, that the cards are stacked against them, and that if they lose a trial they will end up punished far harsher than what they could “negotiate” in a plea bargain. Despite all these plea bargains, our system is not one characterized by leniency, as we have more prisoners, both in absolute terms and per capita, than any other nation on earth. And so most convicts plead guilty, but we cannot be sure if they are actually guilty, as this was never proven beyond a reasonable doubt, even by the state’s own terms. When it is so much more attractive to cop to a heinous crime than to fight a false charge, even confessions must be doubted as a matter of course. Perhaps the standard should be to prove the crime beyond a reasonable doubt, regardless of what the accused says. But that would require far too much deliberation for each case. This would be possible in a civil society with very few crimes, but when there are seven million Americans on parole or probation or behind bars, procedural niceties cannot get in the way of an ever expanding prison state.

I couldn’t guess how many innocents have been wrongly imprisoned, even having plead guilty, for crimes they did not commit, including truly vicious crimes. But I do know that I cannot possibly trust the state when it says someone is guilty, even if there’s a confession. A system that is able to railroad seven people into confessing to crimes they never committed, whose sentencing seems to prosecutors to be soundly based on “physical evidence” and their own desperate guilty pleas, even in retrospect, even despite it being clear there was no crime all along, can simply never be trusted in general to protect justice, nor in any given case not to have committed a great error or engaged in great immorality.

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