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Why “Criminals have rights”


I’ve just finished listening to an otherwise unremarkable audio book called In the Shadow of the Law by Kermit Roosevelt. This book tracks the lives of several individuals in the fictional mega-law firm of Morgan Syler. It was interesting, if in need of some brutal editing. Roosevelt spends a lot of time presenting the philosophy that underlies the legal issues in the book. In this area, he gets a bit wordy at times.

One passage caught my attention that sent shivers up my back and tears to my eyes and is the reason for this post. One of the senior associates, Jerry Rothbard, AKA Gerald Roth is talking to a junior associate right after they’ve won an appeal freeing an innocent death row prisoner who was convicted based on falsified DNA evidence and other prosecutorial malfeasance. In the process, Gerald Roth was uncovered as a disbarred lawyer named Jerry Rothbard, ending his second life and his career with the firm. He is explaining to the junior associate why he did it, why he stood up in court to defend the prisoner, knowing that his comfortable new life would be ended.

In the simplistic parlance of mass media politics, “liberals” (sic) call me a fascist and “conservatives” (sic) call me a commie. I figure that I’m doing pretty good if I have both sides calling me names. My political philosophy defies simple labels, being too complex for sound bite descriptions. In general I’m a (lower case) libertarian who has grown to greatly fear the US government. Much of this book demonstrates why.

This audio clip goes to the heart of the issue on the criminal system and why it must be almost totally biased toward the defendant. Why the defendant must have all the benefits of the doubt. Why, as the saying goes, “better 10 guilty men go free than one innocent man go to prison”. The state has unlimited resources and practically unlimited power. If you’re not rich enough to hire a top gun, if the prosecutor doesn’t like you or worse, if there is a political motivation then you’re likely to go to prison even if you’re totally innocent. Even with the Constitutional protections, as they exist in their currently weakened form. Even a mere accusation can destroy your reputation and an indictment will bankrupt you even if the charges are later dropped.

I’m presenting the passage in audio form because the narrator does such as great job of portraying the passion of the character and the issue. It’s short, just 684kb so it can be downloaded even on dial-up. Without further ado,



Posted by neonjohn on August 3rd, 2008 under Philosophy

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