I can't even begin to imagine what it must be like to be going innocently about your own business, getting pulled over by a traffic cop, and then suddenly being hustled off into a hellish pit for nearly 30 years - voiceless, helpless, and forgotten while being robbed of everything normal in adult life and while bearing the stigma of child molestor.
We all plan for the perfect lives and then complain when things fall short. Well, in our sheltered little worlds, we have no idea what it means to get kicked in the teeth non-stop over the course of a lifetime. This story gives us just a little glimpse and we can all shudder just thinking about it.
I have nothing but the highest admiration for anyone who could endure all this and still emerge with the abiding spirit that Mr. Towler now displays. It is a small miracle that he is not broken, bitter, and vengeful. Let us hope he can still rebuild his life from its broken fragments.
There are perhaps one or two cases (out of several hundred) that still have me lying awake at night. In deeper moments of reflection I know I made the right call on them, but I still worry about it, as part of the process of self-assessment. Sadly I don't always see so much concern in others within the same field.
Child abuse is one of those horribly amoral crimes that clouds our personnel opinions, and so often I see prosecutors who simply hate the defendant on a personnel level. That sort of approach sickens me, it is exactly the sort of approach that screwed this guy; from the cop to the judge it was the same problem.
I can't talk for anyone else, but stories like this mean that tomorrow, as with every day, I make damned sure I am certain of what I find out. To the extend of putting my own liberty behind what I present. This sort of thing should be required reading in our field...
It probably just doesn't make for good television to dwell on this topic. The good guy almost always puts away the bad guy and there's no question about it being the right decision.
I realize cop shows probably portray only a slim resemblance to reality. When I see a show or movie portraying something to do with computers or nuclear reactors there's always that feeling of "that's not how it is in real life!" No doubt, police officers watch the (many, many) shows about their profession with the same thought. However, like it or not, it's these shows that shape the average person's perception of law enforcement. It's the only exposure we get to it, with the exception of maybe being pulled over a handful of times throughout our lives.
Disclaimer: I don't watch any legal shows like Law & Order - maybe they do a better job with this?
I'm shocked at the jury in this particular case. Both the bit about the beard and the alibi didn't create a reasonable doubt? Many are quick to blame the prosecutors, but those 12 jurors should be ashamed of themselves. There's no indication that the prosecutors in this case lied or concealed exculpatory evidence, or that the defense attorney was asleep during the trial.
Don't get me wrong; instinct is a crucial part of it. But when there are zero facts to support that instinct it becomes a problem :)
Hear. Hear. What was especially harsh for him is that in the prison environment, child molesters are the lowest of the low, the prisoners who are held in contempt by other prisoners. He had to exercise immense self-control to keep his dignity intact in that environment. No one should have to live with a false accusation of having harmed a child.
Original witness statements are the only things that are reliable. After the victim has identified the "perpetrator" from a line-up, they forget the original face, and their memories become re-written to include the face they think is responsible. A friend of mine studying to be a cop knows this (all cops should know this) but they still persist in using testimony that they know is unreliable. Can you blame them though? If they didn't use the line, it would be much harder to get a conviction.
Courts should just read a description, one that was made before the victim (or interviewing officer) has seen the suspect they dragged in. Or the police should get a sketch (or computer sketch) of the assailant before anyone involved has seen any possible suspects.
You get a child to admit to anything with the right words and authority, surely everyone knows this!
Even those aren't that reliable; memory is fallible and people remember things wrong all the time. Statements give you nothing more than a vague idea of what might have happened.
Lineups should be replaced by facial reconstruction - get the victim to sort out what the face looked like, then see if it looks like the suspect.
But now they know that they were 100% wrong and their testimony cost this guy his life. That's a tough one to live with.
When a plane crashes, it is standard procedure to determine exactly what went wrong, what weaknesses in the "system" enabled what went wrong to go wrong, what prescription is needed to fix that system, and for the system to be fixed.
This was a plane crash.
I know this article was about one man, but there's no mention of anything about fixing what must have been broken in the first place. Sadly, I fear, because it doesn't exist.
What are other countries doing to improve their criminal justice systems?
Canada is the first country in the world to have "innocence commissions".
What they do is truly marvellous. They will perform a post-mortem on the
case of a man who was wrongly convicted and find out what went wrong and
what they can do to reduce the likelihood of it happening again in the
future. That is what you do in science, that's what you do in medicine,
that's what you do in every other institution where life or liberty is at
stake. We don't do it in the US when it comes to criminal justice, and that
I heard the FAA analogy when this (terrible) policy direction was becoming clear. The commenter observed that handling airplane failures with the same carelessness that we were applying to the banks would mean that no one would every fly.
The problem with similar carelessness in the justice system is that you really can't avoid it by opting out.
Definitely the human factors that caused this will still complicate things, but at least the most egregious kinds of cases can be prevented.
Here are some things that are broken.
1. There is a presumption of guilt.
2. Prosecutors are interested in their kill ratio, not justice.
3. Judges are interested in arbitrary exercise of power, not justice.
4. It is very rare to find a public defender who diligently defends the interest of the defense. Public defenders work with the prosecution to get the case through the system.
5. In some jurisdictions elected judges don't need to have law backgrounds, or have demonstrated any competence or knowledge of the law.
6. The prison system is about punishment and exercise of power, not rehabilitation.
2) Disagree: Prosecutors only caring about their kill ratio is a plus to me. This is what they should be doing. If they slack in any way because they think the accused might be innocent they are taking away the power of decision from the judge or the jury.
3) Wha?: Judges only care about exercising power? This seems like a blanket statement, like an absolute, which are typically wrong.
4) Agree: I would guess that this is the sad consequence of the talent going where the money is. In some states lawyers are required to do X amount of pro bono cases a year. I am sure this helps but maybe there is something else we could do.
5) ?: Do you have examples of this for Judges that oversee criminal court proceedings?
6) No opinion here for the prison system.
> 2) Disagree: Prosecutors only caring about their kill ratio is a
> plus to me. This is what they should be doing. If they slack in
> any way because they think the accused might be innocent they
> are taking away the power of decision from the judge or the jury.
Prosecuting people for filming the police has less to do with 'punishing criminals' and more to do with political posturing with the police force (i.e. you rub my back, I'll rub yours).
Prosecuting teens for 'sexting' is more about: 1) looking good with the locals for being 'tough on crime,' and 2) forcing the prosecutor's morals on other people (i.e. "I don't think that teens should be sexting, so I'll go all-out against them to show them that it's wrong, even of the punishment grossly outweighs the crime.").
> 3) Wha?: Judges only care about exercising power?
> This seems like a blanket statement, like an absolute,
> which are typically wrong.
For #3, I tend to agree with you, but there are a handful of hang 'em judges out there.
For #5, I don't have any examples because that happens only in a handful of states and the people who appoint the judges usually have more sense than to appoint someone absurd. That said, Supreme Court appointments only require Presidential approval and Congress' consent to the choice. There has been a justice or two that wasn't exactly a highly regarded legal mind, but with the appointments being so contentious these days, in practice, they tend to appoint people with auspicious pedigrees.
ie, why does Exxon Mobil drill oil? Because they sincerely truly love that black stuff? No because they want to make money.
The system could probably be improved with good economic analysis, but just because the incentives are misaligned does not mean they're broken.
This is the very optimistic interpretation - another tool and a permanent reduction in the wrongful conviction rate. The pessimistic interpretation is that DNA tests served as a short-term oracle where the system nigh-magically was stripped naked and its true past error rate laid bare, but to which the system will slowly adapt and figure out how to circumvent.
We can probably expect in a few decades to start seeing articles about how DNA evidence gets lost, misinterpreted, planted (remember OJ and the issues with the blood evidence? more than a few police have no issues with framing a guilty man, it seems), and other such strategies that are not obvious to people outside the system.
In other words, if there were suddenly another nigh-magical breakthrough which gave us a second look at true error rates, we would see, superimposed on whatever other trends are going on, a dip in the '80s-'90s and then a slow increase to whenever the second breakthrough's innocence projects got going.
Unfortunately, this is a very long-term prediction and there may never again be a breakthrough as dramatic as DNA testing which would give us the second oracle, so who knows if time will let us distinguish between the optimistic and pessimistic interpretations.
(Related ideas: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Risk_homeostasis & http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goodhart%27s_law)
DNA has a lot of issues as well.
Of course it will never be perfect and there is no process and no rules that can work without a sufficient share of decent individuals trying to do their job properly.
Miscarriages of justice happen. The real crime is that there seems to be no follow-up, no detailed reports, no proposals for making sure the same mistakes don't happen again.
That's the tragedy beyond the individual cases. It will happen again, in exactly the same way, for exactly the same reasons.
It wouldn’t even be hard for politicians to frame the question of whether DNA evidence should be tested as often as possible in harsh law and order terms: For every innocent person in prison, the real perpetrator is running around free. We want to be damn sure that we locked up the right people!
I'm glad there was finally justice in this matter, even if it was far, far too late. To Mr Towler's credit, he doesn't seem to be consumed by the obvious injustice.
The one part missing from the story was any mention of the (other) victim, Brittany, who would now be in her 40s (if still alive). What were the circumstances behind her identifying Mr Towler? What are her thoughts on the matter now?
As must as we can chastise the judge and the prosecutor in this case, there was an eyewitness account and the alleged perpetrator was identified (albeit wrongly). How would you react to an accused child rapist on trial?
I wonder what happened to the real perpetrator. I wouldn't be at all surprised if he is now dead and was probably incarcerated for other attacks.
So this man spent 30 years in jail for a crime he didn't commit. At the other end of the spectrum, Roman Polanski plied a 13 year old with alcohol, raped her, absconded to France prior to sentencing , remains free and is treated as a cause celebre somehow hounded even victimized by the authorities.
It's hard not to look at that and see two different justice systems in play.
"Better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer"
Assuming the punishment is about as bad as the crime, then punishing the innocent is as bad as committing the crime.
So, what's worse: allowing a crime to go unpunished or committing an equally bad crime yourself?
Additionally, a crime committed by the very institution that is supposed to enforce justice is worse than one committed by an autonomous citizen, all other things equal.
Assume that currently 1 person is wrongly convicted for every 10 guilty ones that go free and try. Do the math to change that to 1 in a 100 and be affraid of the consequences of putting this principle into practice.
And again, note that you are not talking about changing the ratio of wrongful convictions to right convictions, because that is highly unlikely: you are talking about changing the absolute amount of wrongful convictions by allowing a larger amount of wrongful exonerations. Because of the ratio of the amount of people involved, the amount of guilty people that would need to go free is staggering. You need thorough Bayesian reasoning to understand this one.
There's also an article about him on Wikipedia:
Most of the time, people just shrug it off, go home or back to their usual community and dismiss this as an aberration. If you are in jail for a crime you did not commit, you face this every day.
Racial prejudice is still a pressure like this. People who live in cosmopolitan areas can go home and shrug it off. People who are isolated and marked as different cannot, so they can see it more clearly. In either case, such prejudices are still with us, but since they've been driven underground, it's hard to know how to deal with them.
Seriously, until I started reading stories like this on the Internet, I thought people were needlessly indulging in fake drama when they talked about racism.
This sort of routine, being rousted and brought in on some bogus charges that are never applied to whites, is a common experience among non-model minorities in the USA. It's also very similar to the story of the man in the article. It's obvious to me he did not run the stop sign that was used as a pretense to bring him in for a rape line up.
Have you ever read Phoenix news as reported by out-of-state newspapers? I'm guessing that you haven't.
But much more importantly, the statistical evidence (which you haven't shown) would only be a consideration if justice were a statistical property. But if justice were a statistical property, there should be no objection to giving police arbitrary discretion to make stops and searches, since statistically speaking it is overwhelmingly likely that a citizen chosen at random has committed some illegal act for which they have not yet been convicted. But somehow that reasoning does not seem as appealing when we are the ones staring down the barrel of it.
Suppose you have a test that could detect something with a 1% false positive rate and which never produces false negatives. Further suppose that the trait you're looking for occurs in 0.001% of the population tested.
Using that test, you would flag 99 innocent people for every guilty person.
But the law we're talking about is for after police have already stopped a suspect for a different reason, a reason that is not allowed to have anything to do with skin color.
I think it could still be an issue, however, because officers have been known to stop people for silly reasons, such as "rolling through a stop sign," when they really want to stop them because their skin color looks suspicious. I think this is a problem, it's really hard to fight against. So this is an argument against that law.
Please don't misunderstand, though. I came here from a small town and, due to unfortunate circumstances, we ended up getting frequent friendly visits from the police. The word "friendly" is not a euphemism. I mean that Darwin and the other guys on the force cared about us and wanted to make sure that everything was okay and that we weren't having any problems. They were great guys. They do a hard job, so when they have a bad day, things can really go to hell fast. So there are a lot of problems and the cops do have to take a lot of crap, both directly and from people second-guessing them. I do understand and respect that, but that's why I care to see that more attention is paid to avoiding perverse incentives in the law itself.
I'm sure I can find more evidence, but I'm procrastinating and need to get back to work.
The very worst thing for your odds of getting let go without prosecution or getting acquitted is being male. Next are being young or black. Being poor, foreign or unattractive(!) also hurt, but to a lesser degree and less uniformly.
Obviously a middle-adged white female can be falsely prosecuted, but it's much rarer than for a random member of the population.
You can not tell me that the logic employed in building court cases is at that level. 12 angry men? In real life there is no juror #8.
I think most people are like this, but convince themselves otherwise.
They may be a trashy lads mag, masquerading as a high-brow product for upper class gentlemen, but for stories like this, few publications tell them better.
Here's a link to some of their best stuff: http://www.esquire.com/features/page-75/greatest-stories
And the best thing is, they haven't lost any of their greatness over the last 75+ years - this was one of the best magazine stories I've ever read: http://www.esquire.com/features/roger-ebert-0310
Spectacular writing, completely agree, that was the point I tried to make with "but for stories like this, few publications tell them better", and that's why I do subscribe to Esquire (both print, UK edition, and iPad, US edition).
However, there is a lot to Esquire magazine that I really don't like, and that is really very comparable to Maxim, FHM and so on. A few examples:
- 'Women We Love' (an excuse to show semi-naked pictures)
- The 'How To...' guides in the middle of the magazine. A couple of examples currently on their website are "How to Get Some on February 14th" and "How to Have Sex in the Car" (and even the boring topics like "How to smile" are generally badly written and fairly pointless).
- The 'Tough love with Tanya Gold' that appears each month..
And I dislike how much it tends to be aimed at middle/upper class people, from the adverts to the content. I'm not sure how much of that is because this is their actual audience, and how much is because their actual audience wants to feel like they are higher in society than they are. For example, I question that the people spending £10,000s on a watch are also going to buy a bottle of £25 whisky, yet you don't see cheap watches advertised, or expensive whisky. Note that, while it may be cheap whisky, it's still whisky - you won't see beer advertised by them, that's for poor people!
Ultimately, Esquire mixes trashy with attempted high brow with some superbe content - and I hope that, like me (and I assume you), there are more readers who subscribe for the great content than there are who subscribe because they want FHM-style content while feeling good about themselves. Somehow, I doubt that's true.
I've never tried Port Ellen, how is it? Shall add to my list for future bottles. If I can tempt you away from Islay to Speyside, get yourself a bottle of Glenrothes some time, even their cheap stuff is surprisingly nice.
I highly recommend Port Ellen 30; it's the only "ghost whisky" I've tried, but it certainly invoked a feeling of saudade that such a rich taste will be lost to history. I'd put the taste somewhere between Talisker and Oban.
I recommend Truth Machine (book) too, basically a Sci Fi look at if someone invented a machine that can tell if a person is lieing and how it affects society...
A. convicting him on insufficient evidence.
B. failing to free him on sufficient evidence
Need to be brought in and asked for a reason for why this happened. If they can't come up with a solid reason justifying each action for why this has occurred, and if they do find a reason, remedies for the failure, then they have to serve the victims sentence.
When an airliner goes down, bosses and leaders scramble to find a reason to prevent it from happening again to appease the public, but in a case like this, a fate far worse than getting injured in an airplane crash, they just shrug it off and make a vow to be more careful with this kind of thing.
Better 100 guilty men go free than for an innocent man be jailed. The guys who incarcerated this innocent man better beef up their security systems. Injustice like this needs to be dealt with, and sadly, never will be. the end.
Plus, the problem with trying to go after all those people is that, in cases like this, many are probably not in the same line of work, have retired or died. Imagine if you took a job where, 30 years after you quit, someone could come after you because of something that might not have been your fault. That's not fair either.
I don't see a good solution to this, other than maybe additional separation of powers - for example, forcing the police and legal system to work further apart and not be rewarded perversely.
If you railroaded an innocent man, tainted evidence, or otherwise brought about a false conviction with massive incompetence, I don't see any problem with people coming after you 30 years later.
Sloppy convictions are only good for the guilty.
What about the jury that convicted him? I know that's not criminal, but they're supposed to be the last stand of justice. I find it incredible that they would unanimously discount what his family said and find him guilty. It's a pretty sad evidence of the prejudices of members of society.
A jury doesn't have access to the truth. The jurors generally cannot ask questions; instead, they "watch courtroom TV" and are pandered to and fed material carefully crafted by both sides in an attempt to influence the jury's decision.
I wouldn't crucify a jury unless there was solid evidence that they deliberately convicted someone they knew was innocent.
What the jury isn't told is that the defendant was rousted up when the word went out to bring in whatever black men they could find in the neighborhood. What the jury isn't told is that the initial report was of a man with face stubble and not the full beard he had when arrested.
Now the jury was told that there were multiple alibis, all of whom were black family members. They can be blamed for that. But really, seeing the little girl point to the man and say she is certain he is the one who raped her she remembers his face quite clearly, are you really going to say you would vote to acquit? Or would you assume the family members are lying to protect their own.
Evidence? You wouldn't blame the jury on this one?
Fuck that. That's not evidence. That's ignorance.
I blame the jury 100%.
It's even in the design of the system, the DA is supposed to try to convict the suspect.
In and of itself that's not a perverse incentive. The system is adversarial: the DA is supposed to try to convict, and the defense is supposed to try to acquit. Plus the defense has a huge advantage, because the burden of proof rests with the prosecution; the defense only has to establish reasonable doubt about the suspect's guilt.
You could argue with it, but it's not an obviously terrible design. The problems are with the implementation, chiefly: (a) the prosecution almost always has vastly better resources than the defense; and (b) judges and juries totally ignore the burden-of-proof rule.
I would also argue that if the only evidence is a single eyewitness' testimony, that is not proof beyond reasonable doubt.
Determining who in the hundreds of people who may have touched upon the case, is at fault and was intentionally distorting evidence is difficult.
The majority of people, given the knowledge they had at the time, were likely just doing their job.
We, the public, would have to pay for the enormous investigation, which likely would be inconclusive (it's not obvious DNA evidence like exonerated him).
You could, for example, tie certain people to this standard (say the district attorney) but that would cause other consequences - every case that wasn't a complete slam-dunk guilty might get ignored, even if there was sufficient evidence.
Please do not take this as an example of Godwin's Law but I think Nuremberg trials made it clear that 'just doing their job' is not an applicable defense. Of course the magnitude of the acts is way different but the precedent exists.
This is an awful story, but I'm wary of setting up incentives in such a way that acquittal is the CYA move. People should be held accountable for preventable errors in either direction, but you don't want to make a prosecutor personally afraid to pursue prosecution for a case just because of the possibility that they might be wrong.
I can't agree with that. I don't feel I can comment on imprisoned for life, but I would go to prison myself for 5 years if that was the price of locking up 100 dangerous criminals for a similar 5 years, assuming they committed relatively serious crimes.
I know the moral high ground is never convict an innocent no matter what the cost, but I personally suspect releasing 100 guilty men poses a huge potential for harm, and I'm kind of a utilitarian.
It's easy to be utilitarian until it's your own life at stake or that of someone you love.
Also, a lot of decent, innocent people wouldn't survive five years in prison with their personality and decency intact.
If 1 in 101 prisoners is actually innocent, that would mean there are close to 23000 innocent people currently in US prisons. I'm not prepared to throw 23000 innocent people in prison without some very good evidence that it truly is worth it in exchange for punishing the guilty.
I mean, we all know that dictators are killing people right now. Does that mean we need to read the stories of their victims' families, and how sad it is? Every time something like that happens?