The Judicial System's Biggest Flaws
Barry Scheck is the co-founder and co-director of the Innocence Project, a national organization that uses DNA testing to exonerate wrongfully convicted people and implements policy reforms to prevent future injustice. Founded in 1988 under the auspices of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University, the Innocence Project has exonerated hundreds through post-conviction DNA testing. Scheck is also famous for having defended notable clients like O.J. Simpson, Hedda Nussbaum, Louise Woodward, and Abner Louima.
Scheck is currently a professor of law at Cardozo and a commissioner on New York's Forensic Science Review Board, a body that regulates all of the state's crime and forensic DNA laboratories. He is first vice president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and serves on the board of the National Institute of Justice's Commission on the Future of DNA Evidence. In 2001, along with Innocence Project co-founder Peter Neufeld, Scheck co-authored the book "Actual Innocence: Five Days to Execution and Other Dispatches from the Wrongly Convicted."
Question: What do you think are the biggest flaws in the American judicial system?
Barry Scheck: Well there are a lot of flaws in the judicial system. I think we could probably do without elections of judges. That creates problems. I think that we could do a lot more to educate the judiciary in terms of scientific evidence. We have a real problem there. It’s increasingly you know scientific evidence is becoming important in a whole host of cases, not just criminal cases and it’s important that we have a certain level of scientific literacy in the judiciary, much less among lawyers. So I think those are two problems. You know it’s like in all of our politics money can make a real difference in corrupting the process of judicial elections. We’ve… John Grisham has written a wonderful book about this called The Appeal. It’s very quick reading, but it’s very troubling. There have been a number of judicial elections for highest appellate courts in this country where moneyed interests have been able to basically go after certain judges. They’re really interested in their you know corporate cases or maybe some tort reform case, but they’re able to make some kind of ruling in a criminal case or something else, look very scary to the electorate and they all of the sudden outside money comes into a state in an enormous amount and some campaign is run and judges are defeated. It happened to a fabulous judge in Wisconsin. It’s happened all across the country and the most famous instance is one that the United States Supreme Court looked into in West Virginia involving the Massey Coal Company and that was the coal company where we had that terrible accident in the mines recently where the head of that coal company put an enormous amount of money into the judicial election for the West Virginia Supreme Court and then the judge who was the beneficiary of this you know sat on the case and the United States Supreme Court that actually ruled in this case that had an appearance of impropriety. We know it when we see it and reversed the decision in that case, so that’s a… They remanded it for reconsideration. That’s a very, very, extreme example, but unfortunately I think a lot of that is going around the country and that… I know that Sandra Day O’Connor for example feels very, very strongly about judicial elections being a real problem and there is probably a lot of different kinds of merit systems that should be considered across the country.
Scheck thinks we should do away with judicial elections, and should do more to educate the judiciary about scientific evidence.
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