Thursday, September 3, 2009

So why'd you pick my guy, exactly?

In most cases, it's pretty clear who the suspect is. The guy beat up his girlfriend or got caught at the scene of the crime or immediately admitted to everything. In most cases, the real question isn't who was involved, but more what the exact charge should be for what really happened.

But in some cases, figuring out who should be charged with the crime isn't that easy. It's clear that a crime occurred because a woman's purse was stolen or a convenience store was robbed or there's a dead body with a gunshot wound to the back. Who did it, though, isn't all that clear. I have found in a lot of these kinds of cases that there's a leap made in the police investigation that I just can't understand.

I get that the liar, I mean snitch, when asked, swore that my guy was the culprit. But I don't have any clue why the police asked about my guy. There was nothing to link my guy to this particular crime until they asked the snitch and the smart snitch, knowing he would get a deal, said, "Sure, I'll say that's the guy." It drives me crazy, not understanding what led that police officer to tie my guy to this random crime.

In the particular case I'm mentioning here, my guy had a very solid alibi for the entire day and the only "evidence" against him was the word of two snitches who lived in the same jail pod and both hoped to benefit from testifying against my guy. For some unknown reason, the jury chose to disregard the 4 alibi witnesses and convict on the word of the two snitches. Oh, yeah, and I now know who really committed the crime. But one thing that will forever bother me about the case is wondering what led the police detective to take a picture of my guy to the snitch in the first place.

Then there are the cases where there are two or more viable suspects. We suspect that one of the two people in this apartment committed the burglary because the stolen items are found there. And both residents kind of match the general description (black man). Or the DNA of two possible suspects is found at the scene, but only one is ultimately charged with the crime based on that DNA. How do the police decide which one to charge? Sometimes it doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but just leaves me scratching my head.

The standard police or prosecution response might be, "Well, we have enough evidence to make a plausible case against your guy, so you can point out the other suspect to the jury and we'll just let the jury decide." But the problem with that is that juries put a lot of weight on the choice made by the prosecution and police. Don't tell me about the presumption of innocence because juries do not observe it. They just don't. All things being equal, I believe juries assume the police and prosecution had a reason for charging the one they did and that they got it right. So it troubles me when I encounter a case where I can't see any reason for the decision to charge the guy they charged as opposed to another viable suspect.


Jeff Gamso said...

Sometimes, of course, we know exactly how they decided. Take, for instance, Clarence Brandley in Texas.

Suspicion for the murder of Cheryl Lee Ferguson quickly fell on Brandley and Henry (Icky) Peace. They were interrogated together and, according to Peace, Texas Ranger Wesley Styles told them, “One of you is going to have to hang for this.” Styles turned to Brandley and said, "Since you’re the nigger, you’re elected.”

Meryl said...

But the real question is, where is it?

S said...

Indeed, Meryl, that is the real question. I hope someday before I die, I will learn the answer.

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