Grind Slow, Grind Fine, but First of All, Grind

There is a quote about the justice system: the wheels of justice turn slowly, but grind exceedingly fine.

The quote is meant to convey that the justice system may take a long time to reach a result, but they eventually will reach the right the result in all cases.

That may be true, but in the American justice system, something should be added. The wheels of justice also grind automatically.

This is illustrated in grand detail by a case out of rural southern Colorado, where a massive drug bust fell apart. The whole article is worth reading in detail. It appears that the informants, or more appropriately, the snitches, turned out to be wholly unreliable: they were skimming drugs, getting paid, lying, taking drugs, targeting their enemies. The transactions were not witnessed by any law enforcement, the “surveillance” wasn’t even worth the name. Recordings consisted of nothing more than the snitch talking, often cryptically. The accused often had no criminal records, others had perfect alibis. A couple were actually incarcerated when they supposedly were selling drugs.

That some investigations are deeply, deeply flawed is not exactly a surprise. But the important thing to note here is not that police screwed up, but that they never had a filter.

When the case began to unravel, it wasn’t because of any newly discovered evidence. It wasn’t the product of an “Aha!” Perry-Mason style shocker. Everything was in the possession of the police, everything had been (or should have been) reviewed by the prosecutor. But it still took defense attorneys, both public and private, to convince the prosecutors and judges to dismiss the charges. We can be sure that process was like pulling teeth.

Fine, that is the defense attorneys’ job. But it is also the job of the prosecutor and the police to make sure they are not filing false charges. That they are not supplying snitches with the controlled substances that feed their habits. That they are not condoning perjury. They are the first line of defense from inappropriate prosecutions, not the last obstacle to freedom.

Instead, they seem to act on automatic. There is an accusation, that a modicum of investigation would disprove. But that investigation doesn’t occur, instead there is an arrest. The charges are submitted to the prosecutor, who could then apply to some evaluation, some keen legal analysis. But that doesn’t occur either, instead charges are filed.

So the system grinds on. It didn’t need to start grinding at all, it shouldn’t have. But it did. The system is not automatic, but it acts like it sometimes.