Friday, November 25, 2011

Regarding Flying Machines, Feedback Loops, and Criminal Justice: Redux

From 22 April 2010:

I've been away for a bit, both physically and mentally. I'm running behind on my posts. It seems I owe the second part of my essay on feedback loops.

If you missed the first part, you can read it here. It will reinforce the point I hope to make, but it's not critical.

In a previous career, I designed commercial transport aircraft for a major aircraft manufacturer. It would be far more accurate to say I helped design airplanes. No one person designs large aircraft. The jumbo jets are some of the most technologically advanced and complex pieces of machinery around today. Despite their complexity, the fact that they travel near the speed of sound, in a near vacuum, at -65 degrees Fahrenheit, and despite the fact they carry around a quarter million pounds of fuel, commerical aircraft are one of our safest forms of transportation. You are far safer flying from Los Angeles to New York than you are driving from Azusa to LAX. 

The safety doesn't result from mottos or mission statements, from pledges or codes of conduct. The safety results from a cadre of engineers who know nature will smite them should they fail to follow the rules. It comes from legions of regulators and auditors, customers and lawyers who will descend upon them should one of their elegant designs fall from the sky. The world of commercial aviation is a world of feedback loops. Planes are safe because those who err are fed back upon, with prejudice.

The world of criminal prosecution is largely absent feedback loops. Judges and prosecutors are, for the most part, legally immune any consequence resulting from their misdeeds, whether careless or willful. The populace returns them to office based on inflated conviction ratios rather than upon any measure of accuracy. The appellate system provides thinly veiled cover for all but the most egregious acts of misconduct. The bottom line is our judicial system deals grisly justice because it is unrestrained by any meaningful, negative feedback.

Consider the case of Charles Dean Hood. I started an Innocence Scorecard for the man, and though I haven't yet completed it, I figure he is good for the two murders for which he was convicted. The US Supreme Court recently declined to hear his case, so Texas can now proceed with his execution. Hood had argued that he had not been given a fair trial becaused the female judge and the male prosecutor had  been doing the judicial hokey pokey. She had ruled favorably on his motions. She sustained him repeatedly.

The point wasn't that Hood was incorrect in his accusations. Not at all. The judge and prosecutor both admitted to their affair. They claimed, however, that it was all over between them at the time of the trial. They didn't mention it to anyone, say the defense team, because the two star-crossed lovers would never let something like their runaway hormones get in the way of their jurisprudence.

The US Supreme Court sided with the judge and the prosecutor. Those two are, after all, servants of the State. The defendant, on the other hand, is a murderer. Off to the gallows with him.

Neither the judge, the prosecutor, nor the State of Texas were fed back upon. There simply is no effective feedback loop in our criminal justice system. Don't believe me? Give it a try. Withhold exculpatory evidence from the defense. The court will rule that you didn't, and that even if you did it would be a harmless error. Bribe a witness with time off, or threaten a witness with time in. Either will get a pass. Pay a discredited DA $86,000 to mount a pathetic defense in a murder case, and the appellate court will look the other way. 

Our judicial system will continue to strap innocent people to gurneys as long as the State exempts itself from any consequences for its bad behavior. Our judicial system is a plane wreck, and nobody plans to investigate. The people on board probably deserved what they got.

22 Apr 2010