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Headlines by E-mail

Win at all costs
Written by Bill Moushey Feedback
When the innocent are framed ...

Friday, December 11, 1998

Bravo to the Palm Beach Post and Pittsburgh Gazette for running the story

"Federal Prosecutors Hit in Report" on a series by the Pittsburgh Gazette

filed with AP news.

This article [Editor's note: An AP summary of the first installment of the "Win at All Costs" series] details abuses by federal

prosecutors and agents in pursuit of convictions. These abuses include

"examples of prosecutors lying, hiding evidence, distorting the facts,

engaging in cover-ups, paying for perjury and setting up innocent people to

win indictments, guilty pleas and convictions."

Of course, if true these are appalling tactics that could see innocent

citizens condemned to loss of everything and to long incarcerations in the US


Just to echo and reinforce this reporting -- that the U.S. criminal justice

system may be perpetrating crimes and abuses of its own -- Amnesty

International is now focusing its attention on the U.S. ("Amnesty International

Trains its Eyes on the U.S." (Nov. 19, 1998, by Diana Block, Post-

Gazette Staff Writer).

This article describes "human rights abuses" that occur in prisons and

police brutality cases, including sexual assault by guards against female

prisoners, detainees beaten by police, and the plight of juvenile prisoners

exposed to assault and/or sexual assault .

What these articles, and the immense volume of articles, editorials and

commentaries on "law and order" - fail to point out is THE IMMENSE power

available to police and prosecutors as a result of the criminalization of drug


Mere possession of small quantities of some drugs - equivalent in size to

precious gemstones - is today a crime carrying stiff penalties, including

years in jail. The founders and framers of the Constitution would be taken

aback to learn that such a significant portion of our legal-enforcement

efforts are consumed by this drug abuse epidemic. Of course penalties for

drug possession are universal throughout all countries -- democracies as well

as dictatorships -- but in the war for "law and order," it must be

acknowledged that arrests and prosecutions for drug possession leave immense

powers to detain and arrest in the hands of police and prosecutors. Today,

such powers do indeed make the news, as in a recent court ruling that Idaho

police could not search the car of every person given a moving citation.

More to the point of Amnesty International and prosecutorial abuses, there

are no doubt hundreds of individuals who have been convicted of drug crimes

based entirely on evidence "planted" by police and prosecutors.

The American media has dealt with the issue of wrongful convictions in

many instances. A movie starring Tom Selleck portrayed a man framed by police

struggling to survive in prison, and an episode of the TV series "Matlock"

featured a man arrested and nearly convicted based on his personalized golf

markers being found next to the body of a murder victim.

If a personalized golf marker could result in a wrongful conviction,

imagine what would happen if a person's bio-fluids were used to frame them for

a murder! This is not mere conjecture. Today, DNA evidence has resulted in

28 innocent convicts being released from death row, but against these numbers

it is almost inevitable that someone, somewhere, will use DNA evidence to

frame future innocent suspects.

The powers of prosecution and law enforcement are vital to our well-being

and social accord, but with any power there is the potential for abuse and

horrible consequences for law-abiding suspects. If the United States allows

large numbers of innocent people to be wrongly convicted, and if our prison

inmates face the torture of repeated physical and sexual assaults, then we

have only shaky ground from which to criticize dictatorships.

Bravo to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, to the Palm Beach Post and to AP

news for filing these timely stories.

Lawrence BrohKahn

Boca Raton, FL

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