Do we kill justice in the name of protecting our children? (Part One)

toddler.jpgLast session, the Texas Legislature enacted Texas’s version “Jessica’s Law,” which increased the penalties for the crimes of aggravated sexual assault of a child under 6 and continuous sexual assault of a child. While most of us agree that a legitimate charge of such an offense should warrant a harsh punishment, those falsely accused of aggravated sexual assault of a child or continuous sexual assault of a child are painted into an even harder corner simply by being indicted. While these cases can be difficult to prosecute for various reasons, the legislation raises the issue once again of should we create such a stacked deck of state witnesses/false or highly questionable expertise, combined with draconian punishment schemes, whereby we dramatically increase the chance of false convictions to keep more of the guilty from getting away.

Under the new law, if an innocent person is convicted of such a crime, on no more evidence than the false testimony of a child (normally coached by a parent with motive to fabricate, and the children coming to believe the story themselves), he faces a minimum of twenty five years incarceration in the penitentiary. This time is served without the possibility of parole or “good time” credit. Thus, claiming your innocence and going to trial means you face a strong chance of dying in prison if a jury – who does not want to believe that a young child could tell such a story if false – takes the invitation of the prosecutor to rely on their own bias, prejudice and sympathies to convict. We all have strong feelings about such cases, and it is difficult to set aside these feelings and give a defendant the presumption of innocence and true “beyond a reasonable doubt” burden of proof due to our fears of children getting hurt.

Also highly concerning is that political prosecutors (elected in Texas) love to obtain such convictions that they can sell to the voters to show that they are “tough” and protecting your children – regardless of the innocence or strong evidence of innocence of the person accused. When State witnesses are shown to have committed perjury in appeals or subsequent proceedings, such actions are generally swept under the rug and the public is kept unaware. In “he-said/she-said” cases such as these, witnesses fabricating on the State’s behalf can be particularly lethal, where juries are searching for testimony to convict on. Jurors often take the “cloak of the State” as carrying more credibility than the average person off the street, and these witnesses know that (and know that they are unlikely to be prosecuted if exposed) when they twist and manipulate to help convict someone accused of such a horrible crime.