July 22, 2011 Leave a comment
One of the ongoing themes throughout the Criminal Justice Policy course I taught this summer was how bad incentives create bad outcomes. Dahlia Lithwick had a nice piece in Slate last week about how prosecutors’ incentives all too often lead to wrongful convictions. It’s a fascinating story about yet another person on death row due to prosecutorial misconduct (you really should read the whole article), but here’s what I wanted to highlight:
But the problem is more profound than a failure to train young prosecutors in their constitutional obligations. It is the lopsided nature of the American criminal justice system itself. Last May, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Connickdecision, retired Justice John Paul Stevens noted in a speech the system’s “imbalanced incentives.” Because prosecutors must always show themselves to be tough on crime, Stevens said, the pressure to get convictions will always outweigh the benefits of protecting the rights of the defendant. Yet after-the-fact scrutiny of a prosecutor’s role in a case can be costly, time-consuming, and, in some cases, irrelevant if it comes too late to save the life of the wrongly accused.
Hey, I’m on vacation, so no solutions from me today, just the remark that we really need to do something about prosecutorial misconduct and it needs to start by changing prosecutors’ incentives.