In his day job, WWP gets to mingle with all manner of smart people. Among his many favorites is Josh Marquis, the affable, likable district attorney of Clatsop County in Astoria, who penned this op-ed piece in today's Daily O [first printed in the New York Times].
Don't be befuddled, friends: WWP and Josh probably have at best only about 10 percent overlap in agreement on the day's issues. But it's almost impossible to be cross with someone as personable, bright and engaging [qualities not always mentioned in the same breath as "lawyer," we might add ... but we digress] as the guy who wittily veils himself in e-mails simply as "coastDA." It's fair to say we're both "go along, get along" sort of folk who love the law and the idea of democracy. And we both have blogs.
WWP takes the same view as Josh that a certain, current and execrable ABC television drama is seriously off the mark and, by virtue of its bad scripts and a questionable dialectic, is destined for cancellation. But after those points, Josh and WWP depart. In the final quarter of his piece, Josh carries on extraneously about some irrelevant Broadway play and then makes this stunning conclusion:
American justice is a work in progress, and those of us charged with administering it are well aware that it needs constant improvement. But nothing is gained by deluding the public into believing that the police and prosecutors are trying to send innocent people to prison. Any experienced defense lawyer will concede he'd starve if he accepted only "innocent" clients. Americans should be far more worried about the wrongfully freed than the wrongfully convicted. [Emphasis added.]
Is anyone else freaked out about that conclusion? Seems to WWP that the syllogism is exactly backward: Americans should be far more worried about the wrongfully convicted than the wrongfully freed -- no? Isn't this why the criminal justice system is based on a standard of "beyond reasonable doubt"? Isn't this why there's a standard of "innocent until proven guilty"? Isn't this what Coretta Scott King's mate was talking about when he exclaimed, "An injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere"? [Famously engraved on the corner of new county courthouse and jail on Portland's S.W. Third Avenue.]
WWP thinks Josh's argument is patently false, wrong and harmful to spirit of what makes our nation great [to say nothing about violating the spirit of the Bill of Rights]. Is "over-imprisonment" of criminal defendants ever justified? Even at the price of imprisoning the occasionally innocent? Can anyone argue with a straight face that this is what the Founders had in mind? Or those who ratified the Bill of Rights?
More to the point: Exactly when did the utter and inexhaustible idea[l] of individual and civil liberty -- even in the light of reasonable government need -- go missing?
Oh, perhaps no one notices or cares about such matters in this day and age, when the idea of a "unitary president," executive privilege, approved domestic spying and a lack of privacy would shock even George Orwell.
It's facile to compare the present-day United States to the Weimar Republic and its successor in, say, 1933 or so. So, we won't go there. [But strictly speaking, it's not that big a reach, if one limits the discussion to the terms and issues of 1933 alone -- which few humans seem intellectually capable of doing ... which is why no one goes there.]
But it's not so big a a stretch to compare the present times to another republic, nobly founded and knavely foundered.
As they say, "It didn't take a day..."