Adversary System Leads Away From The Truth

The U.S. political system is known as the adversary system where the prosecution and defendant compete against each other to either prove the state’s convictions or to defend their client’s rights. However, is this the best possible system or are there so many holes that the truth leaks out of every crevice? It is quite possibly the latter.

This problem occurs in the way the system is ran and the effect it has on lawyers’ ethics. It is possible to see both the prosecutor and defense attorney lose sight of the truth when  their mind set is on their assumed roles and, possibly, personal goals. The book written by Austin Sarat called The Social Organization of Law provides a prime example of a defense attorney, David Luban, assuming their role as he agrees to the statement that “defense lawyers generally must attempt to discredit witnesses, even those known to be telling the truth.” Rather than trying to provide the facts of what really happened, the lawyer tries hindering it because of how the system is suppose to work in favor of the client rather than revealing what is the truth.

Now lets move onto a tactic that prosecutors love using that possibly avoids the truth, plea bargaining. This method is used to convict people who agree to a plea of guilt without going into trial for a lesser sentence. There is a great piece about this situation and it goes into full detail written by Ellen Yaroshefsky. Here is the URL to get to it:

Click to access crimjust_cjmag_23_3_yaroshefsky.authcheckdam.pdf

The gist of what it states about plea bargaining is that people have been coerced and frightened into admitting wrongful guilt. Lawyers of either side,with the help of the police department, fail to present exculpatory evidence during the pretrial phase or conduct “one-sided investigative process where exculpatory proof is simply ignored.” An example of this is presented in Yaroshefsky’s writing when a man by the name of Christopher Ochoa was coerced by the police to take the prosecutor’s plea bargain through fright tactics. They threatened that if he lost, he would receive the death penalty and built on this scare by showing him where the needles would be inserted into his arm during the execution. Not only did Ochoa take the plea bargain, but he also agreed to testify against another suspect, Richard Danzinger. Both men were convicted and sent to prison for life until four years later when DNA evidence proved that another man was the true culprit. This shows that because there is such competition in the adversary system to prove the other side wrong, mistakes occur because the prosecutor wants to be able to blame anyone, rather than at the right person. This is shocking but also the fact that in the state of Texas, where the trial was held, a different county has a waiver an attorney can ask the “guilty” party to sign which makes the convicted relinquish their right to “preservation of the evidence.” The effect of this document could have allowed the destruction of any biological evidence and thus prevent later testing to prove innocence. Harris County went through great lengths to conceal the real truth.

If reading is not your thing, as it is not really mine, then there is also a great movie which shows a prime example of how truth can get lost in the adversary system of the law called Law Abiding Citizen (I am going to be vague as possible as to not spoil the movie). It begins with a family enjoying the evening and then shortly after the family is robbed by two men and one man kills daughter and wife of Clyde Shelton, actor Gerard Butler. Nick Rice, actor Jamie Foxx, assumes the role as prosecutor against the two and the man who did the killing agrees to a plea bargain which allowed him out in three years if he testified against his accomplice, who did no killing at all. This goes though and the non-violent criminal is sentenced to death as the court believed the testimony of the other man. Clyde Shelton pleads to Nick Rice that they are convicting the wrong man and the killer would be let out after a few years. Nick Rice tried to calm him down by saying it is better to get some justice than none at all. His reasoning is that if they try to find the real truth, both men may get off without substantial evidence and that it is better to believe a half truth to get “some” justice. I do not think this is right at all and the real truth should always be pursued.

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4 Responses to Adversary System Leads Away From The Truth

  1. yesdelrinc says:

    I am happy to see someone posting about this issue in the legal system. Your explication reminds me of when police officers or military officials coerce people in claiming responsibility for a crime they did not committ. If we do a quick Google search of waterboarding, this comes up on a Wikipedia article: “Senator John McCain noted that in World War II, the United States military hanged Japanese soldiers for waterboarding American prisoners of war.[9] The CIA confirmed having used waterboarding on three Al-Qaeda suspects: Abu Zubaydah, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, in 2002 and 2003.”

    We can see that the law system has adopted a capitalist/efficient attitude, where the true criminal is not convicted, but the easiest most vulnerable person is pinned as the guilty one. I wonder how many people have suffered unneccessary fines, penalities, or even prison time for being convicted of a crime that they did not committ.

    Thank you for your posting…very eery.

  2. theginja says:

    I think its a mistake to compare this to water boarding. Despite what we may see on TV, the purpose of water boarding is not to extract information. For the sake of preventing future arguments, this isn’t an endorsement or justification of water boarding or “enhanced” interrogation. Its all bad, nasty, evil stuff … I just just don’t think its analogous. I’m just pointing out an often over looked fact.

  3. haleyschryver says:

    I think torture and an adversarial system do have similarities. They are both about getting someone to admit guilt and take responsibility for a crime even if they didn’t commit it. The goal is to incriminate someone not to find the truth.

    • theginja says:

      Again, the purpose of “torture” is not to extract information, or get someone to admit anything. You’re not attempting to get confessions, take responsibility, or admit guilt. That’s why this isn’t analogous. It’s not: I want information about X, I will torture until I get it. That’s not what’s happening. Because it doesn’t work, everyone knows that … And no one is behaving otherwise. This comes down to a fundamental misunderstanding of torture.

      Torture’s purpose is to break an individuals structure. Take away everything they take for granted. This depends on the individual, so it’s always different. Questions are never asked with a purpose of being answered. You never ask a question you don’t know the answer to … You want to appear omniscient, and you do. Once a person “breaks” they become dependent on the torturers themselves. They become their support system … Then you treat them nicely and they volunteer information.

      TL:DR- you don’t torture for information … It’s a precursor.

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