If we are truly interested in justice, we need serious reform of our forensic “science” and a completely different orientation in how we investigate crimes – especially the deaths of children. Too many people are in prison because of bad “science” that is geared toward securing convictions instead of finding the truth. To that end, I strongly recommend this excellent documentary by PBS on criminal convictions in child death cases.
When a sudden unexpected tragedy happens, it is natural to look for someone to blame. When a baby or toddler who is assumed to be healthy dies, it is natural to suspect foul play. But sometimes, there is no one to blame. Sometimes, things just happen that are beyond anyone’s control – it is just a tragedy.
When an infant in his care suddenly died, Ernie Lopez was convicted based on forensic “science” of raping, beating and ultimately murdering the baby. But further examination reveals that the baby had an underlying medical condition that could have easily explained the “injuries” that she allegedly sustained at his hands.
The problem, ultimately, is that the orientation was to finding fault and assuming that the “injuries” the baby sustained were the result of criminal activity. To that end, forensic “science” was used not to discover the cause of death, but to convict Lopez of a crime. It was a flawed and biased process from start to finish. It is very likely that a man’s life has been ruined because of something that was completely out of his control.
The duty of the civil magistrate – including police and prosecutors – is not to secure convictions and is certainly not to defend and protect false convictions. The duty of the civil magistrate is to seek justice. Justice is sending the guilty to prison (or perhaps the electric chair) but it is also exoneration of the innocent. When prosecutors petulantly defend questionable convictions, they are betraying the justice system, their oath of office and their nation.