Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Just Not Just

We should be both tough on crime and committed to making sure those who are convicted are, in fact, guilty. Just this week Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard announced today that Willie O. "Pete" Williams, 44, would be released from state custody following DNA test results that ruled out Williams as the perpetrator of a rape for which he was convicted in 1985. Williams has spent nearly 22 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Those DNA tests were not provided by the State, but instead by The Georgia Innocence Project.

It is ironic that on a week like this, a week that should've served as a gut check for Georgia lawmakers, two bills were filed that could make it less likely that those who are convicted are actually guilty. According to Georgia Legislative Watch, Rep. Timothy Beardon filed HB128, and if the bill passes, then only eleven of the twelve jurors in a non-death penalty felony case will need to agree in order to convict. And Rep. Bobby Franklin (whose bills are suspect out of the gate) has filed HB115, a bill that, if passed, could allow graduates of unaccredited law schools in other states to sit for the Georgia Bar exam. So, we want to lower the bar for conviction and simultaneously lower the standards for admission to the bar.

This is, politically, a very safe position. Beardon and other sponsors will be able to stand in front of the hometown crowd and tout their record on crime. Never mind the integrity of the system, woe to any politician who questions legislation filed under "tough on crime." Justice is costly, and some people are just not willing to pay the price to get it right. Just look at this letter to the editor from today's Telegraph. Some folks, it appears, are fine Iraqi justice. Don't count me among them.

Expensive representation for our worse criminals?

Should our worse criminals be entitled to the best legal
representation?A recent series of articles in The Telegraph on the level of defense provided indigent defendants charged with capital crimes caused me to ponder whether the courts are functioning in the best interest of the taxpayers of our state. The article stated some defendants require hundreds of thousands of dollars to mount a vigorous defense. The Brian Nichols case in Atlanta was cited in which the defendant is charged with the murder of a judge, a court reporter and a peace officer, all in full view of witnesses.In simpler times such cases were presented to a jury after the person charged was deemed sane, witnesses offered and evidence entered by a prosecutor in a matter of hours. The attorney for the defendant presented rebuttal evidence to the jury, suggested an alibi if appropriate, and made a plea for acquittal. Each side addressed the
jury in summary, and the panel retired to consider a verdict. The entire process usually consumed no more than a few days, and justice was served. Rarely was a case overturned or retried. A trial now is viewed by many as a process to free the defendant from all charges and considers those wronged by him as intruders into his personal life. Little value is given to hurt, damaged or demised victims of the crime, but full consideration is afforded the person charged. The emphasis is to free the defendant, with the help of taxpayer money, and return him to the streets. Courts are asked to be more understanding, forgiving and lenient, especially in cases of past abuse and poverty. Every ploy
is used by the defending attorney - allegations of early childhood abuse,
intoxication, racism -for acquittal, with loss and pain by others relegated to the back row of the court room. Meanwhile at the tax office, sufficient monies are being collected, using police powers, to pay a passel of attorneys, consultants, investigators and psychologist hundreds of dollars an hour. It is time for us to begin considering the plight of victims in such cases and dwell less on freeing a defendant. Real justice can be had at a reasonable cost and all the rights of an accused protected. It does not take a village of money.

John G. Kelley Jr. is a resident of Macon.

1 comment:

Button Gwinnett said...

God bless Pete Williams. His thoughts and feelings on all of this has just been truly remarkable. He's a better man than I for letting go of his hate and frustration at being wrongfully accused and unjustly punished.

And thank all that is good for the Georgia Innocence Project. I hope and pray that help is on the way for all of the "Pete Williams" out there.