Four Myths About Criminal Justice

As Nick Gillespie
mentioned last month
, The Washington Post has hired
Radley Balko to write about criminal justice
and civil liberties. Radley’s
first post
went up today, and in addition to introducing its
author to his new audience it listed “some widespread and
potentially harmful misconceptions about the criminal justice

NOW I CAN NUTPUNCH EVEN MORE READERS! BWA-HA-HA!• The number of dangerous defendants who
“get off on a technicality” is so small, it’s barely significant.
Somewhere between 90 to 95 percent of criminal cases are resolved
with plea bargains before ever getting to trial. Among those that
do get to trial, conviction rates in most jurisdictions run at 80
percent or higher.

• Another striking misperception: The crime rate in America has
been dropping dramatically since the mid-1990s. The murder rates in
our largest cities are at lows we haven’t seen in a half century or
more. Yet Americans consistently believe crime is getting worse,
not better. Last October, 64 percent of respondents told Gallup
that crime was getting worse in America. Only 19 percent correctly
said that it’s getting better.

• Likewise, the job of police officer is getting safer. Last year
saw the fewest gun-related homicides of police officers since the
19th century. Assaults on cops are dropping, too. Yet
we’re regularly told that policing is one of the most dangerous
jobs in the country. In fact, you’re more likely to be murdered
just by living in about half of America’s largest cities than you
are while working as a police officer.

• Everything you know about forensics is probably wrong. Those
magical machines that churn out precise and detailed information
based on a half-footprint, a fiber, or a clod of dirt so that Ted
Danson or David Caruso can then go on to solve the crime? They’re
mostly fictional. Prosecutors call this “the CSI effect,” and they
complain that these shows condition jurors to expect far too much
from forensic analysis. On the other hand, an unscrupulous
prosecutor and forensic analyst can also exploit those
expectations. DNA analysis—which was developed within the
scientific community—has shown us that forensic analysis—which was
developed largely in the law enforcement community, and is often
practiced without scientific standards like peer review and blind
testing—is deeply flawed.

You can read the rest
. Congratulations to Radley, and—maybe more to the
point—congratulations to the Post and its readers.

from Hit & Run

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