Tuesday, September 11, 2007

What is the price of justice?

Late last week, news broke that the three wrongfully accused Duke University lacrosse players -- Reade Seligmann, David Evans and Collin Finnerty -- are seeking a legal settlement with the city of Durham that would force reforms in the system and would pay them $10 million each.

As bad as their experience was -- and I can think of hardly anything worse than being falsely accused of rape -- the three young men did not spend a night in jail.

Contrast that with Juan Melendez. He spent 17 years on death row in Florida for a crime he did not commit. When he was finally released -- after a tape recorded confession made by the real killer surfaced -- the state of Florida gave him $100, a pair of pants and a shirt.

Think about that. $10 million versus $100 and a couple of items of clothing.

What is the price of justice? How should be compensate those who have suffered injustice?

What made me think of this was the following story (hat tip, Steve Hall) that moved yesterday out of Texas. I am wondering if this sort of thing might become the wave of the future:

Unusual Suspects: Men Exonerated By DNA Evidence File Civil Rights Suits Against Attorneys

By Mark Donald
Texas Lawyer

It had to be expected. Thirteen DNA exonerations in Dallas County in recent years; 13 men declared actually innocent by a criminal justice system reluctant to admit its mistakes. It seemed just a matter of time before some of these men turned to lawyers to redress the years of wrongful incarceration they had suffered. Three exonerees have filed civil rights suits in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas against those entities and individuals whom they believe were responsible for their wrongful convictions. Two more are planning to file civil rights suits within the next several weeks, their attorney says.

Lubbock attorney Kevin Glasheen represents Billy James Smith and Gregory Wayne Wallis -- two of those exonerated who filed suits in August -- as well as Andrew William Gossett and James Douglas Waller who are about to file suits. Glasheen has taken an aggressive approach to pursuing these federal civil rights claims under 42 U.S.C. §1983.

Not only has he brought these suits on his clients' behalf against the usual suspects -- governmental entities and their employees -- but in Smith's case, Glasheen also sued Smith's former criminal-defense lawyer, alleging the attorney deliberately sabotaged Smith's criminal trial by acting in concert with the state to deprive Smith of his civil rights. The defendants in Wallis'
case also include a prosecutor who had no courtroom role in Wallis' criminal trial but who allegedly participated in the investigation of the crime.

"We believe the cases against the individual defendants involve bad faith,"
says Glasheen, a partner in Glasheen, Valles & Dehoyos. "And the cases against the municipalities involve a custom or policy such as suggestive identification procedures that in their execution led to a deprivation of civil rights."

In Billy James Smith v. City of Dallas, et al., filed on Aug. 17, Smith sued, among others, the city and four of its police officers, alleging that he spent nearly 20 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit. In the Plaintiff's Original Complaint, Smith alleges, among other things, that the officers fabricated evidence, failed to reveal exculpatory evidence, employed suggestive identification procedures and intentionally denied Smith access to forensic testing after his 1986 arrest for aggravated sexual assault.

You can read the entire story here. (It's long.)

And by the way, you can read about Juan Melendez and about other people who were wrongfully convicted and sent to death row by going here.

1 comment:

LYONSPOTTER said...

After all the time that has passed since 911, things can get distorted and out of perspective. So on a day like this, 6 years to the day of the horrific attacks against the US, we need reminders. We should watch videos like this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KsF-RiMzGpk

It puts things into the proper perspective.