I got really annoyed on Thursday evening, when I read a comment on CNN in an article entitled 'Amanda Knox retrial verdict: Six things to know'.
Firstly, why was she back on trial? Fair enough, that's a question the answer to which anyone interested in the verdict should know. Second up:
Had I been eating cornflakes I would have choked on them. "Renewed questions about the effectiveness of Italy's justice system"? Here is a line that (if it wasn't) might as well have been lifted directly out of a release from Amanda Knox's well-funded PR machine.
Compare and contrast with its coverage of the execution of Troy Davis, a man put to death in Georgia despite the fact that most of the original prosecution witnesses had subsequently retracted their testimony, alleging they were put under pressure to testify by the police and the DA.
That's right - Davis is a "convicted cop killer"; Knox is a "U.S. student". For Amanda Knox it was all about how the presiding judge (who is Alessandro not Alessandra Nencini) would rule (it was actually two judges and a jury that made the decision), whereas for Troy Davis "a jury and several judges on appeal have determined that Davis killed Savannah, Georgia, police officer Mark MacPhail in 1989."
In the Davis case, CNN went on to note
While assertions that the U.S. executes more blacks than whites are incorrect -- the country has executed 263 more white people than black people since the death penalty's 1976 reinstatement -- inequalities exist when a murder is interracial.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, 15 white defendants have been executed for the murder of black victims, but 246 African-Americans have been executed for killing whites.It's not entirely clear what this means. Here's how Amnesty International puts it, which is rather more clear.
admit late last year. Personally, I agree with Clive Crook (no, really), writing on Bloomberg in the wake of Holder's speech when he said
A broken system of justice shouldn't command the utmost faith; it should arouse the utmost skepticism. And his appraisal was actually too generous. America's criminal-justice system is not "in too many respects broken": It's a national disgrace, from top to bottom.To be fair to CNN they did later carry a piece in which they interviewed Alan Dershowitz, where he pointed out that
This is not a case, as it's been projected in the media, of no evidence at all. It's a case of the kind that would have resulted probably in a conviction in most courts in America. And so yet, because she is attractive, and because she has created a media campaign all over the country, she's become very popular.
Then there are cases like Ryan Ferguson's, where Ferguson spent a decade in jail because his accuser dreamed he and Ferguson may have killed someone (an accusation that he later recanted). Despite the fact that the judges who overturned his conviction ruled that prosecutors had withheld vital information from the defence, did CNN have any about the effectiveness of the judicial system that allowed this to happen? No, CNN got to the really important stuff.
Or John Thompson, who had his award of damages thrown out by the U.S. Supreme Court after he sued because prosecutors (working under New Orleans D.A.Harry Connick Sr. - yes his dad) once again failed to turn over evidence to the defence that would have exonerated Mr. Thompson. I could cite many, many other examples, but I think the point has been made.
Or what of Herbert Smulls, executed just last week by the state of Missouri and pronounced dead four minutes before the Supreme Court of the United States had announced its decision on whether to order a stay of execution. (As it turned out, they ordered no such stay, but that is beside the point, except from Mr. Smulls' perspective, because he is dead).
"Such frantic communication from defense attorneys to state officials is not uncommon in the hours leading up to an execution-- the state, after all, has the body of the man it seeks to execute (literally, habeas corpus). What is striking here, though, is not just that state lawyers failed or refused even to respond to Smulls’ attorneys but that these officers of the court, and corrections officials, essentially divested the Supreme Court of jurisdiction by killing the litigant."
CNN's 'journalists' would be serving the American public much better if they didn't reserve their snarky commentary about the "effectiveness" of judicial systems for foreign jurisdictions.
UPDATE: NPR actually carried a story this morning on how last year was a record year for exonerations in the US (a rather soft word for miscarriages of justice). It points out that about 1/5 of the exonerations comes from police and prosecutors having a change of heart and re-opening or re-examining old cases.
This chimes with the criticisms of William Stuntz, who in his book The Collapse of American Criminal Justice
laments the fact that criminal statutes have limited the discretionary power of judges and juries to reach just decisions in individual cases, while the proliferation and breadth of criminal statutes have given prosecutors and the police so much enforcement discretion that they effectively define the law on the street.
(The above is from an excellent but lengthy discussion of Stuntz's work by former SCOTUS judge John-Paul Stevens in The New York Review of Books).