Recently, the Washington Post reported that 20,000 years have been stolen from individuals wrongfully convicted in the United States since 1989. Check out the article here.
As Virginia primary elections come up for Commonwealth's Attorney, this article is a glaring reminder why Criminal Justice Reform is so important. 20,000 years behind bars. And that's only the cases that we know about. I can guarantee you there's many, many more. And that doesn't even include the cases where innocent people were incarcerated pre-trial, only to be later released after charges were dropped, with no explanation to those people except probably "you're lucky the government chose to drop the case."
Most Wrongful Convictions Will Never Be Discovered
For a person to be exonerated, it typically has to be a "big enough" case for lawyers to have the motivation to dig deep, often times through a multi-year struggle to seek justice. Most wrongful conviction cases have never even been considered by an attorney for review simply because "a fine or a couple days,weeks, months, or years in jail," is simply not enough miscarriage of justice for an attorney to devote the time necessary to re-litigate the facts and law. There's simply not enough attorneys.
We Need Prosecutors Willing to Accept that Wrongful Convictions have Happened and Will Happen
That's why choosing the right prosecutor to head any given office is so important. We need prosecutors that are insightful enough to have the self-awareness to recognize their own limitations, biases, and mistakes. To recognize that the system is inherently flawed and, not by the fault of any single person, office, or agency, but inherently so because of the history of our great nation that was built by flawed men who are simply human beings. Great as they may have been, their mistakes reverberate through our current lives.
We Need Prosecutors who Will Focus their Limited Resources on Crimes that Matter and Not Ones that Unfairly Impact the Most Vulnerable
We need prosecutors that see the need to devote their efforts towards the most serious crimes that present a true danger to the community. Rather than, in my view, spending limited resources on prosecuting "crimes" like possession of marijuana cases and other non-violent offenses that tend to disproportionally effect minorities, and the mentally ill.
Everyone is to Blame, Including Myself but Prosecutors are in the Best Position to Make Change
I want to be clear in saying that I don't believe that the current state of our criminal justice system is due to any individual. I also want to be clear that those who currently serve, I believe, are hard-working public servants that are devoting their waking lives to do what they feel is right for their community.
But we can't keep going on like this, and indeed, we all are to blame. Serving as defense counsel for over a decade, my own hands are stained just as much, if not more, than the average person that knows little about what happens within the four walls of the local courts. I too am a flawed human and have been part of the problem. I, too, have failed.
But what we can do is recognize what's going on here. And push our criminal justice system forward. Undoubtedly, that begins with the ballot box.
Vote on June 11th and Keep Voting
I, of course, have my "favorites" in mind for whom to vote. But more importantly, I'm interested in the public's awareness of what roles our prosecutors play in this system, who they are, and what they do. What amazing power that they have, and what they can do with that power.
I'm mostly interested in everyone in our local communities, going forward from this day on, keeping their eyes on our criminal justice system, remembering what promises were made, and no matter who wins this year, holding them accountable going forward.
Being head Commonwealth Attorney is a really, really difficult job. It's not a job that I could ever do. It takes a much stronger person, a much more self-aware person. So your choice is important. It matters.
I don't care who you vote for. I care that you vote. And that you always vote. And that when they are old enough, you encourage your kids to vote.
We are so lucky to live in a country that gives us such liberties. Let's treat them with the respect that they deserve. Get out and vote.
Don't Know Where to Vote?
If you don't know where to Vote, the Virginia Department of Elections makes it easy. Check out their website here!