Op-Ed: Doing “God’s Work” from the “Dark Side”

“Prosecutors like to say they are “doing God’s work” by representing the interests of victims. An ex-prosecutor I interviewed for my book, Making a Case for Innocence, used those words when I asked her why some prosecutors are willing to lie or hide evidence to get a conviction, and why some prosecutors seem more focused on winning cases than getting to the truth.

“At the end of the day, we want justice,” she said.

A vague answer, at best.

Still, it might explain the tunnel vision I see infecting some prosecutors: Too many of them seem so driven in their mission to “put the bad guys away,” that they become overconfident in their rightness and are tempted to bend the rules—all to ensure a “mission accomplished.”

I admit, it rubs me the wrong way when a government employee suggests that justice is only served by a conviction. Putting “bad guys” away is all well and fine, but some prosecutors seem to forget that not everyone sitting at the defendant’s table is a “bad guy.”

To a degree, it’s a problem of philosophy: Many prosecutors are in the business of pursuing guilt, so they see it everywhere. To a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And many police departments view themselves more as law enforcers than as society’s protectors, or as crime preventers.

Meanwhile, many criminal defense attorneys and investigators feel as strongly as prosecutors do that they are doing “God’s work.” By protecting the rights of people charged with crimes, they counterbalance the power of prosecutors and police, and thus, make our system fairer for all.

We don’t know the exact number of innocent people currently incarcerated, but we can estimate based on exoneration rates:”

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