The safest place to make huge mistakes with no consequences?

Why, as part of the law enforcement/prosecution side of our criminal justice system.  Actually, mostly just the lawyers get to destroy people’s lives due to mistakes and face no consequences.  A police officer who mistakenly shoots someone he should not have may lose his job, and in extreme cases, face prosecution.  But if you are a prosecuting attorney who wrongfully destroys the life of a defendant through willful misbehavior (unless it’s the Duke lacrosse case, the exception that proves the rule), it’s all good.   NC has had an unfortunately long string (and I’m sure we’re not alone) of prosecutorial misconduct sending the wrong man to prison for decades.  And what happens to this bad-faith prosecutors?  Typically, they end up with a little soreness on their wrist.

Case in point, N&O article yesterday about a SBI agent who “took the confession” of a man with an IQ of 50 (and somehow did not realize he was mentally disabled) and wrote it in such language that it was obvious to pretty much everybody (except a credulous jury, apparently) that there’s no way that anybody with an IQ of 50 could have possibly written it.  Meanwhile, once getting this “confession,” he failed to follow up on a number of promising leads or investigate the case further in any meaningful way.  End result?  Wrong man is in prison for 14 years and the state is out an $8 million settlement to him.  And the investigating agent?  Happily working away in his job as if nothing happened.  So wrong!

The misconduct of State Bureau of Investigation Agent Mark Isley has rung up all sorts of costs: a $7.85 million payout for taxpayers and their insurers; 14 years behind bars for an innocent man with a severe mental disability; and another scar for law enforcement.

Isley, however, still has his job at the SBI, and there’s no indication from Attorney General Roy Cooper that it’s in jeopardy.

Cooper, a four-term Democrat, refused to be interviewed last week about Isley and the Brown case. Isley, head of the bureau’s Medicaid Fraud Section, could not be reached for comment.

Jim Coleman, a Duke University law professor and co-director of the Wrongful Convictions Clinic, says wrongdoers in law enforcement are rarely held accountable.

“The misconduct in this case is another black eye for the criminal justice system,” Coleman said. “They simply take the loss and move on as if nothing happened. Until there are consequences, nothing will change.”

The recent settlement ended three years of litigation between the SBI and attorneys for Floyd Brown, a 49-year-old man with an IQ around 50. Records from the lawsuit reveal new details about Isley’s attitude toward the case and his handling of it.

If there’s anybody above the law in this country, it’s those in the district attorney’s offices and those who do their investigations.  This is truly a massive failure of American justice.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

2 Responses to The safest place to make huge mistakes with no consequences?

  1. John F. says:

    And here I thought you were going to say academia. 😉 I’d file Wall Street in with the criminal prosecution system.

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