Bias in the Criminal “Justice” System: A Case Study
By Sharon Cornet

PSY 301 – Social Psychology
Instructor: Derykka Ross
March 27, 2009

  

Abstract

Bias is evident within all levels of the criminal justice system.  Beginning with the “crime scene” and the on-site detective, it moves forward from there.  This paper covers an actual case where a family was destroyed due to a biased and corrupt cop/detective who violated their civil rights, framed the husband, and ultimately got him imprisoned.   The bias was contagious throughout the legal process, institutions, and individuals who work in that system.  Realistically, it was a child who was the ultimate victim of not just sexual abuse from a neighbor, but also abuse from the very system of “protectors” who destroyed her and her family.

 

Bias in the Criminal “Justice” System: A Case Study

             Bias and persuasion against prisoners is the end of the story for many; however, it begins not there, but at the start of the process within the entire criminal justice system – at the so-called “scene of the crime” and with the officers and/or detectives (and possibly others) present who deal with any witnesses and/or suspects, and perpetuates to the U.S. Courts themselves.  The old motivational saying, “One good thing leads to another” (author unknown) could also be countered with equal validity by, “One bad thing leads to another, and another, and another…”  Especially when it comes to the criminal justice system. 

This author has witnessed underhanded and corrupt dealings within all of the institutions above, to the detriment of families, and especially the victims.  Crimes are committed by civilians, but also sometimes by people who are in positions of power – and these officials could be considered as merely “criminals with badges.”  Authoritarianism, racism, and prejudice coincide no matter what side of the coin one stands on; and the U.S. Courts with Judges who proclaim ultimate authority are not immune to this fact.  Whether the subject is guilty prisoners, the falsely accused/imprisoned, or the authorities that arrest or prosecute them, the lawyers and prosecutors involved plus the courts where jury trials are required to be full, fair, and impartial, are simply flawed in their design due to social bias and persuasion tactics.  Violence breeds violence.

            The investigator (detective) can misinterpret the scene of a possible crime, and make mistakes in their report as well (whether by accident or not).  Because the human factor is involved, there will naturally be bias, mistakes, perhaps inadequate training (or the investigator following the rules of his/her training), and prejudice.  As Gardner put it,   “Belief in the involvement of some individual in a crime is not a bad thing, so long as that certainty does not cause the investigator to sway from procedures or alter testimony.  What we do not know as investigators can always hurt us, and simply put, investigators rarely know everything about how or why an event occurs . . . The investigator cannot pick and choose what to report” (Gardner, 2004, pp. 18,19)

Officers & Detectives who deal with witnesses and/or suspects have rules to follow… the rules of the game, so to speak.  When a detective sits a witness down in their office (which is their territory, not yours) and invades their personal space by putting their face 12 inches from the witness’ face, and tells them with a threatening voice, “You have to tell me every detail of you and your husband’s sexual lives or I will arrest you both on the spot!” and then proceeds to insist he’s “helping you” so that the former doesn’t happen, it can be very intimidating.  If the witness does not understand what is happening, or that their civil rights are being violated (due to ignorance), it can be more than confusing.   For a law-abiding citizen, who thinks that cops are there to “protect and serve” and are in authority, they will naturally be inclined to do what they are told, rather than not. 

The occurrence that was just mentioned actually happened, and this author did some research in 2008, and asked one of the high-up authorities (anonymity and confidentiality were provided) of the El Paso Sheriff’s Department (the institution where this event occurred) and was told, on an informed-consent, 2-hour audio taped anthropological interview, exactly what the procedures are for detectives in their department.  The answers were fascinating, but in a nutshell, some of the requirements were that WITNESSES could be interrogated for information, but that the very moment the investigator/detective thought that the witness might, instead, be a SUSPECT, then they are REQUIRED by law to read them the Miranda Warning (their rights) prior to ANY interrogation.  Also, for the protection of all involved, another officer is required to be present as a witness, to ensure nothing illegal or unethical occurs.   In this particular case, the detective broke all the rules.  Incidentally, this same detective was investigated by Internal Affairs and found guilty of several violations of the law (participating in illegal activities while on the job, which will remain unnamed here), and had a history of coercion.  This latter activity was completely unrelated to the case spoken of here.  Furthermore, the female “witness” he violated above was not considered a witness, since a prior CPS report file showed that the detective had already planned on arresting this person, prior to ever meeting with her, or talking with her.  Therefore, the “witness” was already a “suspect” due to the pre-intentions of arrest, and the direct verbal threat of arrest prior to interrogation as well.  These unethical and illegal acts by the detective showed bias, rather than impartiality.

            Another bias that is used commonly (and legally) is that of profiling.  Profiles (labels based on a set of traits) are placed on individuals who are being investigated, in order to try to help determine if they are possibly “guilty” or “innocent” of the alleged crime; however, the act of profiling is actually committing the ecological fallacy.  Similar to a stereotype (where generalizations are made about a group, based upon a single or several individuals), but is actually its opposite, the ecological fallacy is defined as: “False conclusions made by assuming relationships found through research with groups can be attributed to individuals” (www.ojp.usdoj.gov/BJA/evaluation/glossary/glossary_e.htm).  This is also similar to what Myers refers to as the “representativeness heuristic” which is the “tendency to presume, sometimes despite contrary odds, that someone or something belongs to a particular group if resembling (representing) a typical member” (2008, p. 90).  In this case, the profiling was for that of a sex offender, which in this country is often treated (in this author’s experience and observations) worse than that for murder.

This type of bias, attributed to an innocent male “suspect” (the husband mentioned in the case above) set the stage for false charges, especially since that suspect was treated as a “witness” and interrogated in the same way as the female (no Miranda warning, no second officer present, etc.).  Not until the interrogation was complete, and the detective “found what he was LOOKING for” (based on his bias and profiling) did he read the Miranda warning, and then began writing up the report on the spot, removing exculpatory evidence in the process (telling his victim that the written part that “disappeared” had moved back “out of view” to the previous page on his computer, even though it never showed up in the final printed version later on – far after it was too late.  It was not caught in time due to the pressures of the circumstances, and was missed by the suspect when he read over it and signed/initialed the so-called “confession” Statement).  He had no idea he was being framed.  As a scientist, he simply did not think in criminal terms, nor had he ever been involved with the law.   His own bias that cops were not bad, and that he would just explain the situation of what really occurred (as he would any other scientific explanation – factually) gave the cop the ammunition so that “anything you say can and will be used against you.”   

The detective then pressed the couple to look inside their home to “find physical evidence” to “prove” his bias (not telling them what he was actually up to; and again, they were ignorant since he kept saying he was “helping them” as long as they “cooperated”).  After invading their home by making them sign a release (still under duress), he asked to buy an object from the husband, but the man declined (since it was photographic equipment used in his field of work) and the detective got visibly angry.   The next day the detective took all of his “evidence” (including the supposed “confession” statement) to the DA (District Attorney) and was sent back to get more information, because it was not enough to warrant an arrest.  This author learned about this method of the DA denying a warrant due to lack of evidence when she took a Legal Investigation course at the local college in the fall of 2007.  So when the detective tried to get the woman alone, without her husband present (seriously pushing the issue), she finally gave in, but knew at that point that something was VERY wrong and that they had been deceived.  She met with the detective and realized he was trying to split the couple up, and get her to turn against her husband so that he would have enough “evidence” to make an arrest.  She refused and dismissed him with the words, “This is getting out of hand.  I think it’s time that we get a lawyer.”  The detective got angry, got out of her car, and stalked off down the street.  The next thing the couple knew was that there were arrest warrants out for BOTH of them!

False charges were created between the detective, and the DA’s office, in order to achieve arrest warrants, obviously based on lies.  The woman remembered something the detective had said to her during the illegal interrogation the day before, “Do you know why I love sex crimes?”  “Why?” she answered, noting that he did not hate sex crimes, and did not even like sex crimes… he somehow LOVED them?!  He said, “Because they’re heinous!”  She knew at that instant that he loved sex crimes because HE was heinous, as this was classic projection.  The bias and controlling nature of this particular cop/detective was so strong that fabricating charges were the only way he could “win” and support his self-serving bias.  Similar things have happened to countless people in the United States.  One story of this type of occurrence was with Kerry Max Cook in his book “Chasing Justice: My Story of Freeing Myself After Two Decades on Death Row for a Crime I Didn’t Commit”.  The bias and damage the cops did to Cook in the recounting of his story was harrowing. 

Sometimes the actions of corrupt cops reinforces their stance that they are “right” and that the “bad guys” are “wrong,” which empowers their beliefs and biases even further, making for a very dangerous mix.   Myers (2008) mentions that “beliefs follow actions” as well as some other social observations regarding judgments and beliefs: “Tell me where you see bias, and you will signal your attitudes” . . . and regarding a psychology experiment by Lee Ross and Craig Anderson for the phenomenon of belief perseverance, Myers said, “Nevertheless, the new belief survived about 75 percent intact, presumably because the participants still retained their invented explanations for the belief” and that “beliefs can grow their own legs and survive the discrediting of the evidence that inspired them” (pp. 75-117).   This is a simple social psychological human processing that allows for justification of beliefs, regardless of whether they are true or not.

A similar thing occurred regarding bias, beliefs, and self-justification at CPS (Child Protection Services).  Because the man was arrested on false charges, the CPS detective’s bias shone through as bright as the sun, indicating his lack of support for truth, justice, and due process in the legal system by slamming down the words, “He’s convicted.”   When the wife stood up to him and said, “No, he’s not convicted until a jury says he’s convicted,” the man replied, “Oh yes, he’s convicted; and if you go against me on that I will fight you tooth and nail!”  Just using the word “fight” in a threat like that is means for legal action against CPS; however, she just looked at the other witnesses in the room regarding this atrocity, figuring that if and when the time ever came, then something must be done about this kind of unethical behavior regarding citizens being “guilty until proven innocent.”  CPS has a reputation for being wrong on the majority (2/3rds) of the cases they open according to www.FightCPS.com.  This author checked out the statistics from the annual CPS report itself on www.LexisNexis.com, which is a leading law and research site for professionals and students/faculty of colleges.  The CPS report that was observed (in 2007), did, in fact, say that two-thirds of ALL cases opened by CPS are dropped/closed because of being “unsubstantiated.”  Note that this is AFTER they pull (abduct – take without their parents permission and/or knowledge) children from their parents, destroying families, and doing other psychological and emotional damage to the children themselves.  CPS workers also lied to the couple telling them that they were not allowed to talk to the child about the legal case AT ALL (promoting ignorance and fear), which several (unnamed) attorneys said was completely untrue.  CPS’s goal for lying to parents is so that the child’s testimony won’t change because they want to win the case regardless of what the truth may be.  If CPS were in business for money, with their pathetic 33% success rate (2/3rds being dropped), they would be OUT of business!

            The bias of CPS, follows through with their “expert interviewers” at the Children’s Advocacy Center in El Paso, Texas, as well, especially considering the 8-year old child they interviewed in the case above admitted in the beginning of the secretly-videotaped interview that she did NOT know the difference between the truth and a lie (she also had a history of lying, confusing fact with fantasy, struggled in school including failing 2nd grade, was emotionally immature, had been sexually abused long-term by the “friend and neighbor” (who admitted guilt), and had cognitive problems since birth).   Underwager and Wakefield (1990) introduce the subject of the problem with child interrogations with comments such as, “Based upon our experience, research, and review of the literature, we believe there are serious problems in the procedures followed when there is an accusation of child sexual abuse.  The system of laws, policies, and procedures determining the way accusations of child sexual abuse are handled has developed in the absence of empirical data” and they go on to show a table with some statistics of adjudicated cases (showing the Acquittal/No Abuse stats only): “Divorce/Custody: 78%, Day Care: 48%, Teacher: 81%, Friend/Neighbor: 40%, Stepfather/Relative: 45%, Own Child: 60%, and Stranger 0% (with 1 guilty)” (p. x). 

The problem with the video/interview was the child’s cognitive issues, coupled with a form of Stockholm Syndrome (where she was protecting the perpetrator, repeatedly said she did NOT want to talk about it, and therefore said whatever she could to get out of there, including transposing what the molester had done to her onto her brother, her step-father, and later in “therapy” onto a friend (girl).   The child’s natural father was scared to be around her because she might make something up that he supposedly did too!  This ordeal ostracized the child from her biological father, and she couldn’t understand why CPS sent her – immediately after the interview, and without telling the mother who had custody – that she was going to live with her father.  The consequence was PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), with severe depression, and 2-hour bouts of crying/sobbing at night, even a year after she was moved (by the decision of her parents, together) to her grandparents’ house to live.  She missed her mom so much and didn’t understand why she was being punished, and why her family was ripped apart, and why her step-dad was sent to jail for two months with a bond set higher than the actual perpetrator’s (the latter of whom confessed willingly to molesting her for 2 years). 

Furthermore, the Victims Assistance department is part of the D.A.’s office, so it was like having the fox guard the hen house – Victim’s Assistance never helped the real victim (the little girl) despite promising to several times.   In fact, the ADA (Assistant District Attorney/ Prosecutor) offered the real molester a guilty plea with no time served in prison, which he accepted, and said that the girl and her family had the RIGHT to be at the hearing to give a victims statement.  A few weeks later the hearing occurred, but the family was not told (despite the mother asking to be informed because they had waited a year to find out what was going to happen to the real perpetrator).  In the end all of their victims rights were violated by the ADA.  One has to ask, just how far does this bias reach?  When does it stop?  Where are the limits?  Victimizing the victim(s) to the point of severe depression and emotional trauma (not to mention financial ruin) is not enough punishment?  Everything the family tried to do, to set things straight, was either ignored or quashed.  For the mom, her locus of control had been externalized, and learned helplessness ensued (Myers, p. 55-57).  Victimization was not just occurring to the victim, but to the entire family.  According to Myers, the just-world phenomenon (where people believe they get whatever they deserve in life) promotes martyrdom: “. . . in these experiments the martyrs were dishonored.  When observers were powerless to alter the victim’s fate, they often rejected and devalued the victim” (p. 332).  This helps explain why Victims Assistance were not assisting the victims!

Mental health and physical health issues/connections were paramount.  Broken promises by the authorities (CPS, Counselors, Victims Assistance) continued.  Finally, after fighting suicidal thoughts and begging for psychological help, the mom finally got CPS to deliver their original (broken) promise to have a counselor help them.  The new counselor found “no problems” with the son or the stepfather (regarding the child’s original claims in the video interview of sexual abuse) while other counselors for the girl went nowhere.  She did not start improving until after the grandparents stopped the counseling sessions because of how it was negatively affecting her, sad to say.

            While the stepfather was in jail (for 51 days) he was worried about being raped, and even had threats against his life, simply because of the false charges.  Rapes within prisons have slowed in Texas, finally, because of new laws that add prison time to the rapist/extortionist, but there were still local County Jail problems, such as what one regular in-and-out (revolving door type) prisoner had told this author in an interview in March, 2008.  The bias against prisoners charged (not convicted) with sex crimes is so heavy inside the jail that one man got his head beaten over and over into the concrete floor by a group of prisoners.  Another man had his head pushed between the jail cell bars until it cracked, and then crushed his skull (resulting in his death).  Bias and prejudice, both, come with the stigma of sex crimes, and there are problems with internet transparency of authentically convicted sexual offenders also (e.g., egging of their houses, TP’ing their trees, keying their vehicles, etc.).  Enforcement of their living conditions as being so many feet away from certain public places (limiting where they can live) has forced many sex offenders to have to move into half-way houses, or special neighborhoods with an unusually high number of sex offenders.  Worse yet, the punishment does not fit the crime, because death threats are made, and sometimes they are killed.  This author mentioned the sex offender, who is next door to the couple, and random people (law-abiding citizens) have simply offered to kill him, poison him, or do other hideous things.  It might seem “just” if one were revengeful, but violence breeds violence.  Furthermore, with the amount of innocent people in prison for things they did not do, imagine how horrible a punishment that would be to be selectively victimized like that!

            Lawyers in the case mentioned here had not been much better.  Their own beliefs and biases affected the tactics they used during the legal process.  The “buddy system” is still in effect in practices of law, even though people would like to think that things like that don’t happen these days.  There are pros and cons to the buddy system.  One of the great cons is that it can get an innocent person imprisoned if used wrongly (supported by a lawyer who gave bad advice to their clients), and a pro is that the buddy system can sometimes help get an innocent person’s bond reduced when no other way would have worked.  The DA, ADA’s, and Judges of the court and criminal justice system also use the buddy system.  Unethical tactics are also used against victims, such as when the mom was so fearful of the ADA/Prosecutor (due to hearing of his overzealous and unethical ways of “getting things done”), and feeling ignorant and scared of the whole court and jury trial proceedings.  She asked a lawyer in-the-know when that particular Prosecutor was in trial so she could go watch and be educated on that person’s prosecuting style.  After an hour or so after arriving to watch the already-proceeding criminal trial, she left, feeling like she had learned and seen what she needed to know to feel a little less threatened; but when the ADA heard that he was being “watched” (even though trials are open to the public) his own biases took hold and he made verbal threats against the mom (through two separate lawyers to deliver the message), and said that he was going to have the mother arrested when she was in court – as a trial witness – for “stalking” him (which was not true, and was fear-based as well as slanderous).  This threat by the ADA absolutely devastated the mom, causing her to feel so helpless against this crooked institution and their truly-overzealous employees, that she felt that EVERYTHING was going to be taken away (including her freedom, as if her daughter and husband and family being broken up hadn’t been enough to deal with).  She fell into a depression so severe that she lost 7 lbs in 7 days, quit her job and college classes overnight, was suicidal, and took off a week later just to ‘drive around’ for 500 miles, to get away from the stress and circumstances.  She felt her life was doomed, and her family was going to be destroyed forever.

She found that this same ADA was no different than the other ADA’s colleagues who tried to use extortion, threats, and fear-tactics, to make her own arrest (misdemeanor charges for “failure to report child abuse” – based on her husband’s false charges, therefore her charges were false also) to be used as nothing more than a bargaining chip.  Her own dismissal had been contingent on testifying against her husband in court.  She was so angry and refused to fall prey to the extortion attempt that they wound up dismissing her case anyway.  Meanwhile, some research (not the courts’) found the Prosecutor (who threatened to have her arrested in court) guilty (but not indicted or tried in court) of using the Children’s Advocacy Center against a teen-age, half-naked rape victim to videotape her without her knowledge, and illegally cross-examine her from behind a 1-way mirror without due process, in order to protect the two cops who she claimed raped her, instead of keeping the victim safe (or even believing the victim). 

Getting back to the former case, the Assistant of this same ADA had also told the mom her husband’s case was “supposed to be dropped” due to the corrupt cop/detective’s illegal actions on the job (called Brady material, so that any and ALL cases that corrupt detective even touched was supposed to be automatically suppressed) but the ADA pursued it anyway, allowed the detective (who had since been demoted for illegal activities on the job) on the stand to use personal bias against the husband, saying, “I think he is lying” (classical Projection, as the real lies were from the detective’s mouth).  The ADA also used persuasion and pushed her personal bias onto the jury, prejudiced them with an appeal to emotion, and used extreme “creative interpretations” of the law to bias the jury further, so that they ultimately found the husband guilty of a sex crime he never committed.  He was called a liar even though he told the truth from the very beginning, and all the way to the court trial (never once changing his story).  The truth may set some people free, but when bias is stacked against a person who is innocent, and pleading “not guilty,” they are as good as cursed.

 Similar situations occur with what David Myers calls the “Prisoners Dilemma” (2008, pp. 469-471).  To quote him:

        “If Prisoner A confesses and Prisoner B doesn’t, the  DA will grant immunity to A, and will use A’s confession to convict B of a maximum offense (and vice versa if B confesses and A doesn’t).

        If both confess, each will receive a moderate sentence.

        If neither prisoner confesses, each will be convicted of a lesser crime and receive a light sentence.”

In this case, which shadows some major similarities to the Prisoner’s Dilemma, Prisoner A (the actual child molester, who was diagnosed with severe mental illness and on permanent disability) confessed fully by his own will (and even tried to commit suicide due to being racked with guilt), but also told lies about the dad (Prisoner B) of the victim (that he was showing the child pornography on DVD’s, which is something ONLY the molester had ever done – more projection, like the cop, especially since the dad did not own any such DVD’s).  This set the stage of bias in the already-corrupt cop/detective’s mind to go after Prisoner B, as well as his wife when the cop said in the CPS report that he was already planning on arresting the wife, prior to any knowledge about her, or before interviewing her.  They were already being framed for a crime that had never been committed.  Any truth, from that point on, was ignored or changed/altered due to the biased lens of the detective’s perspective.  The end result was just like in the Prisoner’s Dilemma – Prisoner A (the molester) got off easy on a 10-yr deferred probation sentence and is out to live FREE as he wishes in society, screwing Prisoner B (the protector of the child, who single-handedly stopped the child abuse by Prisoner A from ever occurring again – quite a feat since the victim had Stockholm Syndrome and was protecting Prisoner A by lying to cover up the aggravated sexual assault, and projected that blame onto everyone else she knew through that process (caught on video tape, although used in court as “evidence” of alleged molestation)).  Prisoner B wound up convicted and serving a 10-year prison sentence without ANY probation or bond available (both should have been available on so-called “first offense” but the jury, prejudiced by the ADA’s biases, “hung him by the neck until dead” by the too-harsh sentence imposed upon Prisoner B.  There is some obvious truth to the Prisoner’s Dilemma.

Corruption lies within the U.S. Courts themselves, too.  Juries are known, according to the husband’s lawyer, to be “very unpredictable” and untrustworthy because of bias (especially against sex crime charges).  This proved true in this particular case when they not only found him guilty, but he was supposed to get probation for a so-called “first time offense” and the jury refused it to him, gave him 20 yrs prison time (to be served 10 yrs concurrently), and fined him $15,000.  Because of the charges, he was not even allowed out on bond while awaiting his appeal, even though he was out on bond for 2 yrs prior to the conviction.   On top of that, when the husband’s time in court came, the judge “had to leave town” so everything was rushed, instead of getting the full, fair, and impartial trial he was supposed to get by law.  The Prosecution got 2 days in court, while the defense got of a day, and even one of the defense’s  subpoenaed witnesses wasn’t allowed on the stand (after flying him in from out of town).  Things that were supposed to be objected to and rebutted were not.  Things that were supposed to be brought up in court (to aid the defense) were not.   It was doomed from the beginning with the corrupt cop, and the snowballed momentum just swept over into the courtroom and put him away without a fair trial.

Adding insult to injury, the judge’s own bias against the mom came up at a later hearing – and this author apologizes for her own bias and prejudice against the criminal justice system, but after knowing what she knows, and having seen what she has witnessed, and heard the things she’s heard, she cannot let this story pass away without serving justice by allowing the TRUTH to be told.  Searching for and promoting the truth, it seems, is not the goal of the DA/ Prosecutor’s office – it is solely to prosecute.  With that kind of blind bias, society needs to question when that fine line crosses over from prosecution, to persecution. 

The goal for the later hearings, where the judge showed his bias clearly, was to get the actual child molester (who still lived next door, and was handed a FREE pass via probation with no prison time served) to move out so the daughter (11 yrs old) to move back in with her mom, whom she clinged to.  The judge verbally expressed that he did not want to make the sex offender move away in order to punish the mom for “allowing” the sex offender to molest her daughter to begin with (with the judge not even being aware that the offender had previously been an old friend of the family, or that the girl showed no signs until the very end, when the parents found out and turned him in).  The judge was judging the mom without a trial, during the molester’s hearing, and did not allow her to speak, said she should be put away, and would do so if he could.  Meanwhile, he praised the molester for having a “perfect” probation record so far.  The judge was known for being emotionally unstable, too.   The judge’s unpredictable moodiness (with lawyers and even the Prosecutor walking on eggshells) and the inherent dangers in the courtroom are exemplified by Myers: “Social judgment involves efficient, though fallible, information processing.  It also involves our feelings. Our moods infuse our judgments . . . ‘memories and judgments change with the color of their mood’ . . . when emotionally aroused

. . . we become more likely to make snap judgments and evaluate others based on stereotypes” (pp. 97, 98).  The end result?   The molester continued to live next door and the daughter could not go home to her mom, while the step dad was stuck in jail for the next 10 yrs (or less IF he were to get parole in 5 yrs (unlikely according to the prison Warden, just based on the charges alone)).  An appeals process takes 2 years and is not guaranteed (the majority of appeals are not granted), especially if the buddy system were to start working in favor of the ADA and judge again.  Bias is a powerful thing.

Pre-perceptions (bias) and persuasion in the courtroom were the key factors in this tragedy.  The young girl did NOT want to testify against her step dad and said that her worst fear would be that he go to prison.  She feared for his life.  She had told the ADA in his private office that the picture she drew was made up, and that her step dad was trying to protect her and did not molest her.  She was so young when she was interviewed, and had all kinds of things mixed up in her head that even false memories may have been a part of that.  Myers mentioned the issue of false memories, “When [somebody, such as an interviewer who asks leading questions to a gullible, confused child with mental setbacks] manipulates peoples’ presumptions about their past, a sizable percentage of people will construct false memories . . . about one-fourth will later recall the fictitious event as something that actually happened . . . the repeated finding is the misinformation effect . . . suggested misinformation may even produce false memories of supposed child sexual abuse . . . our nave statistical intuitions, and our resulting fears, are driven not by calculation and reasons but by emotions attuned to the availability heuristic” (pp. 81-92).    

The Innocence Project has some statistics for Texas prisons, regarding people who have been exonerated by DNA evidence, proving they did not kill who they were convicted of murdering.    “… the Innocence Project, which has now had some 100 death sentences overturned based upon post-conviction evidence.  According to their study of the first 70 cases reversed:

           Based on the numbers above (of the 70 cases this information is based on) this equals to the figures below on Table 1.

Table 1

  • Over 30 of them involved prosecutorial misconduct. = 43%
  • Over 30 of them involved police misconduct which led to wrongful convictions. = 43%
  • Approximately 15 of them involved false witness testimony.  = 21%
  • 34% of the police misconduct cases involved suppression of exculpatory evidence. = 10% 
    11% involved evidence fabrication. = 3%
  • 37% of the prosecutorial misconduct cases involved suppression of exculpatory evidence. = 11%
    25% involved knowing use of false testimony. = 8%


          
Taking the percentages above, and the bias and illegal occurrences that happened from day one in the case mentioned in this writing, all the way through to the trial, we see what chance the man had of getting convicted on fabricated charges in Table 2.

        Table 2

43% Prosecutorial misconduct (misleading the jury, extreme interpretations of the law, yelling at
                       witnesses, etc.)

11% Suppression of exculpatory evidence (ignoring where the girl had exonerated her step dad)
               21% Corrupt cop telling (more) lies, claiming the defendant was the one who was lying

43% Police misconduct (civil & human rights violations, including spousal privilege, improper         
                       investigation, etc.)

10% Cop eliminating exculpatory evidence from the defendants statement

03% Cop’s fabrications to DA, which led to arrests and grand jury indictment

???% Unsure on false witness testimony (already covered above by same person above)               .

         TOTALS:  131% chance of being convicted
???% chance increased due to lack of fair, full, and impartial trial
???% chance increased due to prejudiced jury member(s)
???% chance increased due to inadequate defense (not objecting, leaving out pertinent info,
          defense’s expert witness not bringing key issues, and the list goes on…)

 

With those kinds of numbers, and ALL of them being involved in the case above, it is no wonder why the step dad got convicted!  He didn’t have a chance!  The court evidence was based on what was brought in to them from the arrest record and alleged (misinterpreted & misapplied)  “evidence” gathered in the field.  Add to this a corrupt cop who fabricated information to the DA, which led to false arrests, false charges and the associated indictment and conviction, and you have a formula for disaster… all because of bias and corruption from the beginning.  The cop was placed on the witness stand (despite the Brady material showing his corruption – his  testimony was not legally allowed, and had been suppressed, but the ADA’s bias pushed it back in).  The cop said he “thought” that the man was “lying” (more transposing of his own habits onto others).  The cop’s heinous acts went rewarded, the ADA won the case, and the step father was falsely imprisoned because of biased acts being perpetrated in every single step of the criminal justice process. 

On May 5, 2008, a statement was made by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice on their website (www.tdcj.state.tx.us) in acknowledgment of problems within the justice administration.  Titled “Senator Ellis’ Roundtable for the Prevention of Wrongful Convictions” is quoted this excerpt below:

“Many experts have identified specific areas of weaknesses in our criminal justice system
– including problems of mistaken eyewitness identification, false confessions, incentivised informant testimony, and the suppression of exculpatory evidence – which too often result in the wrongful prosecution and conviction of innocent Texans . . . Those providing indigent defense are often an innocent defendant’s last hope for fairness and justice.  I encourage this esteemed group of experts to consider the significance of an adequately funded indigent defense system t improve access to a fair judicial process and prevent wrongful convictions, which diminishes public trust and destroys the lives of those affected.  We must not let this opportunity slip; now is the time to take decisive steps toward the prevention of wrongful convictions in Texas.”

           The date of January, 2009 began the 81st Legislative Session (which occurs every 2 years) in the state of Texas.  The Texas Criminal Justice Coalition created a Fact Sheet  “List of Criminal Justice Related Bills” that “rebuild confidence in the criminal justice system and ensure innocent individuals are not sent to prison.”  Among the many listed, which could help people like the family mentioned above, if passed, include (CLICK HERE FOR PASSED BILLS):

SB 166 (Ellis): “Relating to electronically recording certain interrogations and the admissibility of certain statements made by a juvenile or a criminal defendant . . . requiring police officers to electronically record all interrogations.  This bill would also ensure that the accused is informed of his/her rights prior to being interrogated.

SB 165 (Ellis): “Relating to an annual report and analysis by the Office of Court Administration regarding cases involving the trial of a capital offense . . . examining the connection between sentencing and race of defendants, as well as create a “checks and balances” system that would hold the criminal justice system responsible for every stage of the criminal process.

SB 260 (Ellis): Relating to the disclosure of certain information regarding, and the admissibility and the use of testimony by, a witness for the state in a criminal case . . . equality for the defendant and ensures that certain testimony is given due scrutiny.

HB 498 (McClendon), HB 799 (Thompson), SB 115 (Ellis): “Relating to the creation of a commission to investigate and prevent wrongful convictions . . . wrongful convictions have increased in the last few years  . . . investigate thoroughly all post-conviction exonerations   . . . errors and defects in the criminal procedure used to prosecute the defendant’s case . . . identify errors and defects in the criminal justice process in this state generally . . . develop solutions and methods to correct . . . procedures and programs to prevent future wrongful convictions . . . require the commission to compile a detailed annual report of its findings and recommendations, including any proposed legislation to implement procedures and programs to prevent future wrongful convictions.

HB 1736 (Anchia & Jones): “Relating to compensation of persons wrongfull imprisoned . . . This bill would  increase the amount of compensation given to a wrongfully convicted individual . . . adds compensation if the individual was required to register as a sex offender or be on parole . . . offer state level insurance for life . . . paying for up to 120 hours of tuition [for post-secondary school].

HB 944 (Dutton): “Relating to in-prison geriatric communities . . . addresses geriatric problems faced by inmates over 60 years of age.  The program would consist of a treatment program and calls for separate housing for participants.

SB 2276 (Ellis): “Related to parole board rules regarding inmates claiming actual innocence . . . make it illegal for the parole board to deny someone parole because they fail to admit guilt if they have maintained their innocence since their arrest.

SB 388 (Carona): “Relating to the creation fo the law enforcement integrity unit in the Department of  Public Safety . . . enforcement of laws relating to law enforcement corruption.”

HB 293 (Dutton): “Relating to automatic expunction of criminal records . . . allows for mandatory expunction orders under certain situations for defendants who have been acquitted by a trial court, pardoned, or had a dismissal of charges . . . or if it is presented and subsequently dismissed or quashed . . . requires the prosecuting attorney to bring the motion for expunction . . . court must enter an order of expunction not later than the 30th day after the date . . . this bill would help those who have been legally cleared of any wrongdoing.

HB 1870 (Madden): “Relating to the manner in which inmates may receive certain cash payments on discharge or release from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice . . . TDCJ to put money held in the inmate’s trust account and cash on to a prepaid debit card.”

 

           As of this writing, there is no way to tell which of the proposed bills might pass in the state of Texas, but ANY (and especially ALL) would certainly be a huge step towards a more efficient and JUST direction regarding the corruption and false imprisonment of innocents within the criminal “justice” system.  The bias within the Texas Criminal Justice system has been well established; however, attempts to rectify the violence against citizens is slow in coming.   The man falsely convicted of a sex crime still sits (as of this writing) in a Texas prison despite his step-daughter exonerating him CONSISTENTLY since the year the case began.  The corrupt cop still has his job, the prosecutor and DA continue to justify their unethical acts, and the family (the true victims – the child, as well as the siblings, parents, grandparents, etc.) are left to pay the huge bill and pick up the pieces that are still being continually broken every single day that passes, due to this injustice.

            Bias and beliefs have a very close connection.  This bias has been shown (above) by this author to occur within judges, juries, ADA’s, DA’s, CPS employees, cops/detectives, lawyers, other professionals, and even regular citizens, especially when it comes to alleged sex crimes.  Just the mention of such charges has gotten inmates murdered, and has caused people to act as if they are on a “witch hunt” against “the other” (i.e., outcasts) that their beliefs and biases make the alleged perpetrator into, whether it is based in fact or not.  Fear, prejudice, and hatred breed violence, just as violence breeds violence.

According to Social Psychologist, David Myers, belief perseverance is the “persistence of once’s initial conceptions, as when the basis for one’s belief is discredited but an explanation of why the belief might be true survives” (2008, p. 80).  Additionally, an experiment was conducted to test and measure this phenomenon, by “Lee Ross, Craig Anderson, and their colleagues” when they “planted a falsehood in people’s minds and then tried to discredit it . . . it is surprisingly difficult to demolish a falsehood, once the person conjures up a rationale for it . . . showing the participants some anecdotal evidence . . . reseachers totally discredited the initial information by telling the participants the truth . . . the new belief survived about 75 percent intact, presumably because the participants still retained their invented explanations for the belief . . . called belief perseverance, shows that beliefs can grow their own legs and survive the discrediting of the evidence that inspired them . . . participants still held their self-generated explanations . . . Our beliefs and expectations powerfully affect how we mentally construct events . . . we become prisoners of our own thought patterns.” [emphasis added] (p. 80). 

Additionally, “When an experimenter or therapist manipulates people’s presumptions about their past, a sizable percentage of people will construct false memories . . . about one-fourth will later recall the fictitious event as something that actually happened,” (p. 81).   This is also a problem with courts and witnesses (including, and especially children who are asked leading questions during an interview by a so-called “professional” in their field).  The presumed guilty are doomed, and it is, as the defendant was told by his attorney, impossible to “prove” one’s innocence.  Myers states, regarding constructed memories, “The repeated finding is the misinformation effect . . . Suggested misinformation may even produce false memories of a supposed child sexual abuse, argues Loftus,” (p. 82).  Regarding newlywed couples [although it could apply to anyone, in any circumstance] who were surveyed, and resurveyed a couple of years later, “The results are ‘frightening,’ say Holmberg and Holmes: ‘Such biases can lead to a dangerous downward spiral.  The worse your current view of your partner [or whomever you are focusing on] is, the worse your memories are, which only further confirms your negative attitudes,’” (p. 82).

Robert Feldman also covers the problem with inadequate memories, specifically concerning eyewitnesses in trial courtrooms:

“One reason eyewitnesses are prone to memory-related errors is that the specific wording of questions posed to them by police officers or attorneys can affect the way they recall information, as a number of experiments illustrate . . . The problem of memory reliability becomes even more acute when children are witnesses, because increasing evidence suggests that children’s memories are highly vulnerable to the influence of others . . . 5- to 7-year-old girls who had just had a routine physical examination were shown an anatomically explicit doll.  The girls were shown the doll’s gential area and asked, ‘Did the doctor touch you here?’  Three of the girls who did not have a vaginal or anal exam said that the doctor had in fact touched them in the genital area, and one of those three made up the detail ‘The doctor did it with a stick’
. . . Children’s memories are especially susceptible to influence when the situation is highly emotional or stressful.  For example, in trials, in which there is significant pretrial publicity or in which alleged victims are questioned repeatedly, often by untrained intervieweres, the memories of the alleged victims may be influenced by the types of questions they are asked . . . in short, the memories of witnesses are far from infallible, and this is especially true when children are involved.  The question of the accuracy of memories becomes even more complex, however, when we consider the possibility of triggering memories of events that people at first don’t even recall happening,” [emphasis added] (2008, p. 236-237).

 

            A courtroom full of jurors listened to the bias of the prosecutor whom pushed a video-taped interview, where the child was led by the interviewer (also a high emotion/stress situation as the child stated over and over that she did NOT want to be there, and did NOT want to talk about what had happened to her by the sexual molester next door), and the false memories of this child who had cognitive problems (obvious to those family members who knew the girl, and more than obvious if the many inconsistencies of the ‘confessed testimony’ are taken into account), coupled with belief perseverance of the already prejudiced jurors, just exasperated the problem of bias in the courtroom.  Does it matter if the person, or rather “confessor” or “witness,” being videotaped is a “suspect” or “victim”?  Myers states about the Camera Perspective Bias: “ . . . people have viewed a videotape of a suspect confessing during a police interview . . . If they viewed the confession through a camera focused on the suspect, they perceived the confession as genuine.  If they viewed it through a camera focused on the detective, they perceived it as more coerced.  In courtrooms, most confessions videotapes focus on the confessor . . . such tapes yeild a nearly 100 percent conviction rate when played by prosecutors [emphasis added] (p. 106).  In the case regarding the family this author has been discussing, the witness was the child, and the child could not even remember the false memories she had made up during the original videotaped interview (years before the trial occurred), and said so in court.  The videotape “evidence,” which had been suppressed due to some of these apparent problems, inconsistencies, etc., was then reintroduced by the prosecutor/ADA, despite its former disallowance.  Because the FOCUS was the child, and not the interrogator (who was also shown beside the child in the video, but asking leading questions), the rule above that ‘tapes yield a nearly 100 percent conviction rate when played by prosecutors’ won out.

            Another problem of bias shows up in the preferential order the courts present their information to the jury.  From the start, court trials are rigged in favor of the prosecution.  “. . . a two-sided presentation is more persuasive and enduring if people are (or will be) aware of opposing arguments . . . In simulated trials, a defense case becomes more credible when the defense brings up damaging evidence before the prosecution does,” (Myers, p. 238).  Furthermore, there is the problem of primacy versus recency.  Who should go first in a trial – the defense or the prosecution?  Would it make a difference?  Concerning voting and listening to persuasive arguments from politicians, “People’s preconceptions control their interpretations.  Moreover, a belief, once formed [remember belief perseverance!], is difficult to discredit, so going first could give voters ideas that would favorably bias how they perceive and interpret the  second speech.  Besides, people may pay more attention to what comes first . . . a primacy effect: Information presented early is most persuasive.  First impressions are important,” (p. 239). 

When an experiment was done with college students, according to Myers, they were given a “condensed transcript from an actual civil trial.  They placed the plaintiff’s testimony and arguments in one block, those for the defence in another.   The students read both blocks.  When they returned a week later to declare their opinions, most sided with the information they had read first.”  What about a recency effect, where information presented last might have the most influence?  The experimenters “gave another group of students one block of testimony to read.  A week later the researchers had them read the second block and then immediately state their opinions.  The results were the reverse of the other condition – a recency effect.  Apparently the first block of arguments, being a week old, had largely faded from memory,” (p. 239).  In the case of the step dad’s conviction, it is important to note that not only did the prosecution get 2 full days to present their side, but the ADA went first (primacy effect), and the defense, due to the trial being cut short, got only of a day to present their side (inneffectively). 

The judge had to leave town (on a Thursday) for several days, and by law was required to sequester the jury during that time so the trial could ensue the following week (on a Tuesday), but he was unwilling, so pushed the lawyers to finish up early.  “We have to wrap it up,” said the defense lawyer in the case.  Had the jury been sequestered, like they were supposed to, there might have been a chance to overcome some of the major biases and other associated problems with the how the trial was allowed to run (producing a recency effect), but that chance was not even allowed.  Because the prosecution went first (primacy effect), broke ethical rules, showed the videotape when it had been suppressed, used an appeal to emotion to prejudice the jury, ignored/removed exculpatory evidence, put a corrupt cop on the stand who originally framed the defendant, and lastly (not mentioning other things that were left out or not rebutted properly), when the prosecution stole the show by hoarding the majority of the time (4/5ths) to prosecute (persecute) the defendant (victim), there was just simply NO CHANCE of there ever being a fair, full, or impartial trial for the step dad of the little girl who just wanted her family back together so she could come home.  Today she is left alone in her guilt and grief, no thanks to an overzealous prosecutor (who refused to listen to the victim, and whose bias predisposed him to attack instead of search for and uphold truth), and an unethical court and criminal “justice” system.  Bias, prejudice, and methods of extreme persuasion due to unfair tactics in the courtroom are simply blatant evidences of a very broken system.  Too many innnocents are imprisoned falsely due to these many errors, most of which start with bias and sloppy investigations.  It is harming families, and especially the children who are the greatest victims of this type of criminal-justice-induced violence.  Punishment is a negative, and crime is a negative, but two wrongs do not make a right. 

Whether the subject is about guilty prisoners, the falsely accused/imprisoned, or the authorities that arrest or prosecute them, the lawyers and prosecutors involved plus the courts where jury trials are required to be full, fair, and impartial, are simply flawed in their design due to social bias and persuasion tactics.  Violence breeds violence. 

~~~

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References

Cook, K. M. (2007). Chasing Justice: My Story of Freeing Myself After Two Decades on Death
           Row for a Crime I Didn’t Commit.
New York, NY: William Morrow, Harper Collins
            Publishers

Feldman, R. (2008). Understanding Psychology, 8th Edition. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill
            Companies, Inc.

Gardner, R. M. (2004). Practical crime scene processing and investigation, Volume 39. FL:
           CRC Press.

Lauer, R. H., Lauer, J. C. (2008). Social Problems and the Qualify of Life, 11th Edition.

New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

Myers, D. G. (2008). Social Psychology, 9th Edition. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill

Companies, Inc.

Underwager, R., Wakefield, H. (1990). The Real World of Child Interrogations. Springfield, IL:
           Charles C. Thomas – Publisher.

 

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