Monday, February 19, 2007

Not guilty then, but guilty now?

So a man who was exonerated of rape is now on trial for murder. As one might expect, the defense is arguing that police officers planted evidence in order to prove the guilt of a man who embarrassed them by being shown to be innocent of an earlier crime they arrested him for, and that he was convicted of. From the Court TV coverage, that seems to be the crux of the defense case. (Of course, this is perhaps the most interesting angle - so I'm not surprised that an outfit like Court TV, that makes it's money from sensationalizing the legal system, would concentrate on the most sensational aspect of the case.)

In any event, I find myself of two minds about this particular case. On the one hand, I'm sincerely hoping that the police have the right person in this case. Primarily because the idea that the police would set about retaliating against people who are wrongfully convicted to be too unpleasant to want to lend credence to - even though I don't think of police officers as superhuman enough to be above such things. Secondarily, because I think that it will spark in other people the idea that the police, as an institution, are capable of being petty and vengeful (although going to prison for the rest of one's life is anything but petty). There has been a crisis of confidence in the police for a very long time among certain segments of American society. The idea that the police would go after people who they feel have embarrassed or defied them in such a public way can't possibly be helpful. And given the number of people who feel that our government hasn't acted in good faith over the past several years, the last thing we need are more reasons to be distrustful.

On the other hand, if this man is guilty of murdering one person after having been exonerated of the rape of another, it raises an interesting point - one that seems to be gaining currency in the modern-day United States - if this man had remained in jail, he wouldn't have been able to murder the young woman. The War on Terror is showing us that we're developing a tolerance for pre-emptive incarcerations in the name of stopping "dangerous people" from committing crimes simply based on the idea that they have the capacity and the will to commit them - will we always be opposed to applying that logic to American citizens? Especially if we're able to point to a case of a dangerous man who was incarcerated who then murdered someone when he got out? Of course, the case could, and perhaps should, be made that after nearly two decades of incorrect imprisonment, anyone's not going to be "quite right in the head" anymore (which, obviously, is a point that some make about the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba), but I wonder about our acceptance of that line of reasoning.

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