by Sue Russell

“No matter if science can debunk old ‘evidence’ used to win a conviction, no matter if overwhelming information is uncovered to prove an innocent was wrongfully imprisoned, some key players–detectives, prosecutors, fire marshals, et al–will cling to their long-held certainty about a suspect’s guilt.

“‘It’s always easier to recognize the mistakes of others,’ cognitive neuroscientist Itiel Dror says of these often mystifying denials.  ‘The problem we face,’ says social psychologist Carol Tavris, ‘is not from bad people covering up their mistakes and not wanting to face the truth.  It’s from good people who deny the evidence in order to preserve their belief that they’re good people.’

“Anthony Greenwald, a psychology professor at the University of Washington, says it’s natural for most of us to see ourselves in the most favorable light possible; to picture ourselves as more heroic or good or honorable than we are.  For some, accepting that they may have contributed to an injustice would be such a massive blow to their perception of themselves that it is simply intolerable to countenance.  So they don’t.”

An interesting look at a phenomenon that I’d often wondered about.  I find it pretty disturbing that so many people are so reluctant to recognize (and learn from) their mistakes, though I can certainly understand the tendency to be defensive of past actions.  That said, I think the opinion expressed by Special A.D.A. David Angel in the final few paragraphs is preposterous:  It’s not that every mistake made by prosecutors is misconduct.  The misconduct lies in the fact that prosecutors refuse to recognize or acknowledge their mistakes, often actively hiding evidence that would exonerate the accused.  Prosecutors are properly held to a higher standard because the accused’s liberty is at stake, and we, as a country, believe (ostensibly) that it is preferable to let a guilty person go free than to imprison an innocent person.

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