The goal of the criminal justice system, as its name implies, is to achieve justice. It is not simply to rack up prosecutions and convictions.
Justice depends on making certain the right people are prosecuted and sentenced to appropriate punishments. Prosecutors sometimes forget that fact.
John Bradley, the new chairman of the Texas Forensic Science Commission, who is also the Williamson County district attorney, expressed a disturbing disregard for justice in testimony last month before the Senate Criminal Justice committee. He disparagingly referred to the Innocence Project as a “New York nonprofit” dedicated to ending the death penalty.
In fact, the Innocence Project — while based in New York — has worked nationally to exonerate individuals improperly charged with serious crimes. Using DNA evidence, the project has overturned 245 wrongful convictions in 34 states and Washington, D.C., including 36 in Texas.
Exonerating the innocent and removing the wrongfully convicted from death row shouldn't discomfit anyone concerned with the impartial application of justice. In Cook County, Ill., however, it may become a prosecutable offense.
The Innocence Project at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism has helped exonerate 11 people since 1996, some for capital offenses. The Cook County state's attorney's office has issued subpoenas to a professor and students who investigated what they believe is a wrongful conviction in a murder case.
The state's attorney, Anita Alvarez, says she just wants to be sure the students didn't skew their findings to get a good grade, the Associated Press reported. With the subpoenas, she's seeking academic transcripts, the course syllabus and private e-mails.
That looks more like intimidation than a legitimate interest of government. The message is unmistakable — don't question our prosecutions.
A court will consider Alvarez's arguments at a hearing in January. It should quash a prosecutorial effort to badger those working in pursuit of justice.