The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion A better justice system


Author and activist John Grisham’s Aug. 30 op-ed, “Va. can do better than keeping innocent people in prison,” highlighted three pardons of innocent people after decades of imprisonment and called for reforms. He said these men suffered in part because of the criminal justice system’s failings, from the “incompetence of its investigators” — the police —“to the misconduct of prosecutors.” Mr. Grisham noted that to prevent future similar injustices, police and prosecutors should lose their “broad immunities” from being held accountable in civil court.

Yet civil awards will almost certainly be paid or reimbursed by governments, taking the sting out of the penalty for individual violators. As well, credible sources say that the threat of greater civil liability is leading to shortages of good-quality police officers. This is reducing the desire among legislators to end qualified immunity.

Thus, we must find new and quicker ways to hold bad prosecutors and police officers criminally accountable. Currently, the system almost always protects them. Not only is justice delayed and denied, but the prosecutors who committed these crimes certainly helped convict other innocents. It’s time to demand a better system, which may mean funding special independent investigatory teams for use around the nation. 

Paul A. Friedman, Alexandria

The writer is founder and executive
director of Safer Country.