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I just watched John Oliver's latest show on "Wrongful Convictions". And boy oh boy was my opinion of the US justice system way too generous! And if the US justice system was this bad, imagine the situation in other countries!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kpYYdCzTpps

Wrongful Convictions: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)

Why do people on this forum, and lawyers in general, behave as if their profession is so objective, unbiased, etc? Is it all just an act?

2 Answers 2

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As I mentioned in this answer following the rule of law does not imply that the law guarantees any particular right, or adheres to any particular standard. It also does not imply that justice is done in every case.

The rule of law is a norm, an aspiration, not a promise that is kept in every case. It is probably beyond human ability to do exact justice in every legal case. In any event, the rule of law per se does not have to do with doing justice fairly, it has to do with respecting the laws as they stand, and not being subject to unlawful injustice by corrupt or biased officials.

If the law decrees, say, that sentences for using crack cocaine (favored by the poor and back) are ten times those for using powder cocaine (favored by the richer and whiter) and a court follows that law strictly, imposing those disparate sentences, then the rule of law has been fully satisfied, although perhaps not the principle of fair justice.

Why do people on this forum, and lawyers in general, behave as if their profession is so objective, unbiased, etc? Is it all just an act?

Many answers on law.se have recognized that injustices in court, including wrongful convictions, happen with distressing frequency. It has also been mentioned that various laws are or may be perceived as unjust themselves. But since law.se is devoted to describing and explaining what the law is, and how it is supposed to work, unjust events which violate the law are of only limited relevance here, beyond noting that they do indeed violate the law. Whether an existing valid law is unjust is of even less relevance here, because the main subject is what the law is, not if it is good law or bad.

It might be argued that prosecutorial discretion vests excessive power over criminal cases in a single official, and that this is contrary to the general principle of the rule of law. But it has a very long history, and some practical reasons behind it. The courts do not have the resources that would be needed if every arguable violation of law were to be prosecuted to the limit, and in many cases doing so would quite likely work injustice, not justice. Perhaps a different system, involving some sort of review, might be better. But it is less than clear if such a system would in fact be an improvement, and it would surely add delay and expense. (In practice, most such decisions are made by an assistant prosecutor under one title or another, and reviewed by a senior prosecutor, so there is not a single official able to act on whim unchecked.)

While it is true that (in the US) the Police cannot be legally compelled to enforce the law in a particular case, they normally do enforce it, and political and social forces combine to incline them to do so in most cases.

I agree that it should be easier to overturn apparently wrongful convictions in the light of new evidence, but this is in part because the laws, as currently written, make it hard, and the courts are following the laws, thus upholding the rule of law. It has been said that courts do not enjoy a random commission to do acts of justice, meaning that they must follow the law. even when the result seems unjust to the judges.

It is also true that those involved in an allegedly wrongful conviction are very reluctant to admit past error, thinking that to do so will harm their current reputations, and perhaps endanger their political futures, and so such officials place unneeded obstacles in the way of such proceedings.

I think that while US laws are sometimes unjust, and court proceedings are sometimes rigged or biased, this is less common than in some places, particularly in authoritarian countries. I will not claim that the US is the "Greatest country in the world", but I think that I can truly state that it has a higher level of ordinary justice than many places do, although perhaps not the highest anywhere.

But a high level of justice is not not the same as "following the rule of law".

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From what I have gathered so far, all law enforcement is political. The entire justice system is political. "Rule of law" is just a meme used to subjugate the average person so that the transgressions of the rich and powerful can continue.

  • Prosecutorial discretion is not subject to judicial review
  • Police have zero responsibility to actually protect the people (Gonzalo v. Castle Rock)
  • Wrongful convictions are very difficult to overturn, even in the face of overwhelming new evidence

Understanding the true nature of the justice system is important. One needs this information to protect oneself. In places such as China, Russia or Singapore, it is common knowledge that the legal system is rigged. People adjust their behaviors accordingly so as to protect themselves.

If the legal system in the US, supposedly the Greatest country in the world, is equally rigged, then it is important that everyone is cognizant of this and adjust their behaviors accordingly. Otherwise, innocent people will get hurt, as demonstrated in the latest John Oliver show "Wrongful convictions".

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