Most people who pay attention to current events in criminal justice circles are aware of the reports of convicted persons who are being released because they are in fact innocent persons unjustly imprisoned, sometimes after being falsely imprisoned for many years. These stories should give any rational person who is a member of the criminal justice community pause and thought as to what they can do as professionals to prevent these failures of American Justice. There are a few fundamental concepts of criminal justice that must be respected absolutely if our criminal justice system isn’t going to slip backward and mirror some the worst commonalities of historically documented systemic patterns of various defective criminal justice systems of past epochs throughout the historical world. For those with the interest there are number of British television series which are comments on the legal order of an uncaring aristocratically ruled system, which also illustrates quite vividly the plight of people, across even class lines, who come in contact with such a system. We cannot forget the past or old failures will become current failures once again.
My experiences have taught me that “reasonable doubt,” is a critical concept to a fair justice system. This concept might be juxtaposed against the concept of “probable cause.” The police officer and prosecutor think in terms of “probable cause” aggressively and routinely. They are of course trained to think that way of necessity. But, often, and sometimes to great tragedy, “probable cause,” is an equivalent of “probable guess,” and perhaps morphs into best guess, and somewhere along the way morphs again into a certainty. The criminal defense attorney’s job is to see the “reasonable doubt’ and to enable the jury to see that “reasonable doubt.” This is the antidote to “best guess,” but sometimes along the way the patient is terminal and the antidote fails to cure to the diminishment of the American Justice System.