When it comes to criminal convictions, which is more important: getting it done right, or getting it done fast? I think we would all choose the former, especially if we, or a member of our family, were a victim. We would also hope that the District Attorney, the person elected and charged with prosecuting those suspected of crimes, would feel the same way, especially when the death penalty is involved.
Apparently, they don’t.
A few weeks ago, District Attorneys sent a letter to leaders at the NCGA asking them to scrap a law called the Racial Justice Act, or RJA. The RJA gives death-row inmates the chance to have their sentences commuted to life without parole if they can prove racial bias played a part in their death sentences, and has been hailed as a landmark law throughout the country. The DA’s, however, seem to be a bit uncomfortable about allowing this type of evidence to be heard and have been unusually aggressive in trying to curb it.In a press conference yesterday, Rev. William Barber, state NAACP president, said that DA’s “should uphold the law, instead of waging a campaign to destroy it. Their duty is to seek the truth, not convictions at any cost.” He is right.
“The truth” is more than just factually-correct information. When someone says they are “telling the truth” or that “the truth is out there”, they are talking about a larger idea than the correct answer to a question or a provable fact about the word. We have entire government agencies dedicated to finding the truth, most of the major world religions claim to have the truth, and we swear to tell nothing but the truth when we are sworn to give testimony in a court of law. The truth is a big deal. Or at least it should be.
Our entire court system is not, contrary to popular belief, set up to find the truth. It is instead constructed to find an approximation of truth, namely justice. And if you think the two are one and the same, it’s obviously you haven’t spent much time inside a court room. In a court, the only truth that matters is the kind you can prove. If you can’t prove it, it never happened, never existed, and cannot be considered by the jury when they make their decision. Evidence, not truth, is what proves innocence or guilt.
So, considering that no one is claiming that our courts are a perfect tool for determining truth and/or justice, why unduly limit what can be used as evidence when the outcome for the defendant may well be death? I’m not sure – better ask your local DA.