Some thoughts on how to reform the criminal justice system in the USA.
1. Eliminate the death penalty and very long sentences.
A culture of excessive sentencing has built up over a period of the last few decades, doubtless fuelled by public anger about crime.
(a) Nobody should be sentenced to more than 20 years before parole is considered.
(b) For people who maintain their innocence, this should not be a barrier to release.
(c) Behaviour while in prison should be the main factor in determining whether an offender may be safely released.
(d) Monitoring technology should be used for those who are released on probation. Sex offenders should be offered treatment and/or technology to assist them with not re-offending, as a condition for release.
There are multiple reasons for eliminating excessively harsh sentences.
(a) Very few people will be the same criminal that they were after serving a 10 or 20 year sentence, especially if they are young when convicted. Most people do deserve a second chance.
(b) Excessively harsh sentences do not deter crime, and can provoke it. Excluding wrongful convictions, no prisoner should feel their sentence is unjust.
(c) It is unfair to those who are wrongly convicted – and this will always be a possibility.
(d) Incarceration rates are currently excessive.
2. Educate police, prosecutors and juries on wrongful convictions, and the real danger of convicting someone on weak evidence. Ensure that expert testimony is based on proven science. Jurors should be cautioned NOT to attempt to function as unreliable “human lie detectors”, instead they should focus on the content of witness testimony.
3. Criminal trials should be kept short. If the prosecution has credible evidence, it should be able to make it’s case in two or three days of testimony at most, and very lengthy cross-examination of defendants and defense witnesses should not be allowed.
4. Experts should be required to prepare reports for the jury, and these reports should be subject to anonymous peer-review. Defense attorneys should be able to flag reports for peer review, pre-trial.
The investigation should be DOCUMENTED. That means recording everything that can be recorded with photographs and videos, especially ALL interviews, the crime scene and the autopsy.
5. Prosecutors should not be allowed to inflame juries, the only task for a jury should be to determine facts.
6. The jury should be given a written summary of the evidence by the judge before considering their verdict.
7. The jury should be required to give a written summary of their reasoning when they return their verdict. They should specify any evidence about which they have doubts, especially if further investigation or information could resolve those doubts. If necessary the trial should be adjourned to allow such investigations to be completed.
8. Sentencing should be done by judges not juries.
9. Defendants of good character who are convicted on uncertain evidence should be given early parole.
10. Misconduct is a serious issue. I believe absolute immunity for prosecutors from wrongdoing should be removed, and all information and evidence held by the State should be disclosed to defense attorneys. In addition law enforcement ( police, prosecutors and judges ) should NOT be directly elected, as politics and justice do not mix well.
11. The appellate system needs to be functional – to actually right wrongs, ensure that convictions are SAFE – and not just procedurally correct. The standard for appeal should be whether the prosecution case really was objectively proved beyond a reasonable doubt, not simply that the jury returned a guilty verdict.
“Decades ago, the UK encountered a similar roadblock to fair policing. A national law, the Police and Criminal Evidence Act of 1984 [PACE], however, subsequently required officers to videotape their interviews, among other provisions.” see A recurring problem in ‘Making A Murderer’ used to be huge in the UK — and the country figured out how to fix it