The Long Beach Beating Case And Race

When I posted last week about the beating of Billy Ray Johnson, Drydock (in comments) asked why the left wasn’t talking about the Long Beach assault.

“What’s the Long Beach assault?,” I wondered. (I wouldn’t have had to wonder if I had read Rachel’s post back in January). A short google later, I knew that on Halloween of 2006, a mob of black youths1 beat the crap out of three young white women. One of the young women received severe injuries to her skull and eye, and all three are suffering severe trauma to this day, both physical and mental. Witnesses claim that at least one anti-white remark was shouted out, although it’s not known who shouted it (there were apparently over 30 people present). In addition, the attack caused considerable trauma to the community, making everyone (but probably white people in particular) feel less safe and less inclined to trust. In light of all that, I think whoever inflicted the beatings deserves severe punishment.

Ten black youths — one male, nine female, ranging in age from 12 to 18 (I think) — were arrested, and all but one (a twelve-year-old girl) were found guilty in juvenile court of committing assault and a hate crime.

The judge sentenced the kids to probation, house arrest, and community service. This light sentence, given the severity of the crime, has caused consternation on right-wing blogs. Rick Moore thinks its because black defendants are given light sentences, and this sort of thing could never have happened were the races reversed.

Hecubus has a similar analysis,2 and writes:

Do you know why the judge gave such lenient sentences to the offenders? If you do, explain it to me because I still do not understand.

Only the judge knows for certain, but here’s my guess: The judge wanted to give the defendants very little motivation to appeal their verdicts. That way, he’s less likely to have his ruling overturned, which is a real possibility because the evidence against most of the convicted kids is very weak.

I won’t go over every reason this case is weak — Earl Hutchinson’s post does that well. But for me, one factor is paramount: The ID procedure used by police was completely illegitimate. From the LA Times:

For the field identifications, the three victims and an 18-year-old woman, Kiana Alford, who said she had witnessed the attack, were driven separately to the parking lot where the minors were detained.

Alford would testify later that officers told her, ‘We caught the people who did this,’ and that she felt it was her responsibility to identify them.

So the police didn’t include any non-suspects in their lineup, and told the witnesses before they made their IDs that the people they were IDing were the guilty parties. It’s impossible to imagine a less legitimate ID, or a clearer case for “reasonable doubt.” And that’s just the start of the weaknesses in this case — again, see Earl Hutchinson’s post for more.3

Personally, I think it’s likely that some of the convicted defendants are guilty, and others are innocent. But I could be wrong. But what I believe is beside the point; the point is, no one should be convicted in a courtroom without sufficient evidence.

* * *

So how does this compare to the Billy Ray Johnson case? Drydock implied that it’s very much like the beating of Billy Ray Johnson, but with the races reversed. But I don’t see it.

It’s true that both cases involved a despicable and probably race-motivated beating. And both involved slap-on-the-wrist punishments that are inappropriate given the seriousness of the crimes. But that’s where the similarities end.

In Billy Ray Johnson’s case, the local community (or at least, the local white community) seemingly wants the case to quietly go away, and the crime isn’t seen as very serious. In Long Beach, there is tremendous pressure from an enraged community to see people convicted and punished for the crime.

In Billy Ray Johnson’s case, there is no doubt about who did it. In Long Beach, there’s a great deal of doubt — and despite an enormous lack of compelling evidence, a conviction was pushed through the court system.

In Billy Ray Johnson’s case, members of the local white community (including a former mayor and a jury foreman) have been blaming the victim for the crime against him, and claiming that he wasn’t significantly harmed. I haven’t seen anyone, white or black, make those claims about the Long Beach case; the controversy isn’t over whether the crime was bad, but over whether the convicted youths were railroaded without sufficient evidence.

* * *

I think a more legitimate comparison could be made between the Long Beach case and the famous Central Park Rape case of the 1980s, in which — responding to a community’s desperation and anger after a white woman was attacked in a park — a group of black youths were convicted of rape, despite a lack of legitimate evidence against them. In both cases, a genuinely horrible crime happened; in both cases, there was enormous pressure from the public for arrests and convictions; and in both cases, police used lousy procedures to concoct a case against a group of poor black youths who didn’t have the resources (economic or cultural) to effectively defend themselves.

A comparison could also be made between both those cases and the Duke rape case, of course. In all three cases, the police used biased and unfair procedures in their investigation; and in all three cases, there was enormous public pressure for arrests and convictions.

But let’s not overlook one enormously significant difference: None of the accused Duke men have been found guilty in a courtroom. And — unless a genuinely damning case is put against them in a court of law (which seems unlikely) — none of them will be found guilty. The kind of railroaded conviction that happened in the Central Park rape case, and which I strongly suspect went on in Long Beach, simply doesn’t fly when the defendants are white and rich.

If the accused men in the Duke case are innocent, of course, then they’ve suffered unjustly,4 and I don’t pretend that’s all right. But I’m also not going to go along with the pretense that being unjustly accused and found guilty isn’t much worse than being unjustly accused and acquitted.

Conservatives imply that looking at these cases shows that white institutional power — and racism — are myths. But what I see is that the system pretty much works the way it’s supposed to for white defendants, or at least for white defendants with some money; for us, the system doesn’t convict without sufficient evidence. That’s simply not true for black defendants. And that’s why comparing these cases convinces me that institutional racism is still treating non-whites like crap, and still matters, and still needs to be fought.

(Hat tip to Happening-Here).

  1. “Youths” is a word that sounds weird and police-y to me. But I can’t think of another word that covers people ranging from age 12 to age 18; 12 is too young to be called a teenager or a young woman, and 18 is too old to be called a kid. []
  2. By the way, the theory that the justice system systematically gives lighter sentences to black defendants — which is what I think Hecubus and Rick are implying — is exactly the opposite of what the statistics show. []
  3. There is one solid piece of evidence — a phone belonging to one of the victims was found in a car that some defendants were in. But even if you think that’s enough for a conviction, it should only apply against whichever defendant had the phone, and isn’t evidence against the defendants who were never even in the car the phone was found in.

    It’s also been reported, via an anonymous leak, that a victim’s blood is on another defendant’s pant cuff. If that’s true, that’s pretty damning. But since the judge refused to accept this evidence — which was introduced by the prosecution two weeks after the trial began — it can’t legally be held against any of the defendants. []

  4. I don’t know what happened at Duke, or if the accused men are guilty. But from what I know, barring some amazing new evidence, there’s not enough evidence against them to justify a conviction.

    Nor do I deny that the Duke Lacrosse team seems to have a lot of racist misogynistic scumbags. But being wrongly accused of rape is not a legitimate punishment for being a racist misogynistic scumbag. []

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47 Responses to The Long Beach Beating Case And Race

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  4. 4
    Rachel S. says:

    Amp, I think another interesting issue when comparing these cases (Duke, Central Park, and Long Beach) is how people have framed the ages of the perpetrators. In the Central Park case people frequently labeled the defendents men, and I saw ome of that trend with how people discussed the Long Beach case. Compare that to Duke where their defenders frequently called them “boys” or “kids” even though they are of age. It’s almost as if underage black teens who commit crime are not seen as “innocent children” (I mean innocent in the sense of young and naive, opposed to not guilty.). I contrast, we have white adult males who are seen as innocent in both senses of the word. (I was getting hate postings about how innocent they were before any DNA results came back.)

    This has been something that has consistently bothered me in all three of these cases. It could also be a factor in very young Black teenagers being tried as adults.

    I can’t tell you how many times I have adminished people not to call the Duke men–kids or boys.

  5. 5
    Blair says:

    The judge in the Long Beach case said he gave the defendents the lightest possible sentence because this is what is required by California law in cases involving minors. The reason the judge gave for not accepting the DNA evidence was that it would slow down the trail procedings. The probable reason is that he thought it wasn’t necessary because the other evidence was so convincing. The eyewitness testimony was exceptionally detailed, and it wasn’t just one woman. She was backed up by the black man who stopped the attack.

  6. 6
    Rachel S. says:

    And one more thing, were you reading my saved posts at Rachel’s Tavern. LOL!! Because I swear I have a similar post about the Central Park rape and the Duke case. You’re getting in my brain. Hehe!!

    One more thing, if you really want to get sick to your stomach go over and read the 300 or so comments at Pandagon on the Billy Ray Johnson thread. They tried to keep them on track, but a bunch of racism apologist troll came in and took over.

  7. 7
    Ampersand says:

    Blair, why do you assume that “exceptionally detailed” is the same thing as “more credible”? I’m not sure that detail indicates anything one way or the other, unless the details in question are collaborated by physical evidence that the witness had no way of knowing about.

    I don’t know if the witness was being truthful or not, but I think there’s a lot of space for reasonable doubt. From the LA Times:

    During the arguments, Bouas vigorously defended her key witness, Kiana Alford, who provided the only testimony linking six of the 10 minors to the assault. Alford testified that she watched the attack from her car, and provided a detailed account of how it occurred. “She was brilliant that night,” Bouas said. “She did a phenomenal job telling you what happened. She was never rattled.”

    The defense attorneys pointed out significant contradictions in Alford’s testimony on cross-examination, however. Most notably, they focused on her statement that she could not make out what individuals were doing during the attack because it was too dark and she was too far away.

    Attorney Frank Williams noted that Alford could only identify the minors that police presented to her as suspects, and could not describe anyone else among the 30 people that she said joined the attack.

    “If she can describe everyone who is caught, and no one who isn’t, perhaps … a reasonable person would consider that to be a little precarious,” Williams said. [...]

    Today, the defense is expected to call Lineshia Hill, Alford’s companion on the night of the attacks. According to a statement from a defense investigator given to the district attorney, Hill said she and Alford arrived at the scene of the beatings after the attack had ended.

    As far as I can tell, it’s not true that the man who stopped the attack testified at the trial that he recognized any of the accused as being among the attackers. If I’m mistaken about that, then please provide a link.

  8. 8
    Ampersand says:

    Rachel, really good point about the age-framing.

    I did read some of that thead at Pandagon, in fact, it was reading this comment by Sheelzebub (a writer I like a lot) which galvanized me to write this post.

    I agree that a lot of the comments were awful, especially later in the thread (it’s rare for any thread, on any blog, to still be good after the first 100 posts), but I’m really glad Sheelzebub wrote about it (and she apparently read about the case on “Alas”). It’s always nice to see a story that shouldn’t be obscure picked up by a blog with an ultra-huge readership.

    I haven’t been going through your archives (although maybe I should!) — I came across your post about the Long Beach case while I was googling for blog posts about the case. I didn’t realize you lived right in the area until after I read your comments — it made me feel a bit nervous about writing this post, since I’m sure you’ve read much more about the case than I have. :-)

  9. 9
    blair says:

    The judge in the Long Beach case said he rejected the DNA evidence , which the prosecution wanted entered into evidence midway through the trail, because it would “slow down” the trail. The correct inference to draw from this is that the judge thought the case against the defendants was so strong that the DNA evidence was uncessary. Many people appararently read newspapers reports that merely repeated the defense team’s attempt to counter eyewittness statements; however, the eyewittness statements by one black woman and one black man–who stopped the attack–were highly detailed–down to which defendent did what. They described the vehicle the defendants fled in. The cops stopped the vehicle, which turned out to contain one of the victim’s cell phone, and returned with the defendants to the scene. Experts agree that one-the-scene eyewittness identifications or much more reliable that lineups conducted days or weeks after the crime. The two victims were also scheduled to testify but the presecutor decided the case was so strong that they didn’t need to testify. Hoever, the victims told reporters after the trail that were sure the right people were on trial. The judge said he gave the lightest possible sentence because that is California law in dealing with minors.

    Hate crimes gets lots of publicity, but they are relatively rare. We should take a look at decriminalizing drugs or at least lowering the penalties for non-violent drug cases–the major reason so many black youths are in jail. Ironically, it was black community leaders who insisted on stronger police enforcement in high-crime areas and stiff sentences. The pre-civil racist viewpoint was that crime didn’t matter as long as it stayed in black neighborhoods.

  10. 10
    Joe says:

    I think that the race of the defendants in the duke case worked against them in this instance. (Not the same thing as saying it works against white’s in general.)
    The fact that their parents have the money to afford a really good defense team is the real key.

  11. 11
    Joe says:

    Oops, hit post too soon.

    I think the long beach case, much like the duke case, provided an opportunity for selection bias in a big way.

    This is a good reason for a jury that only pays attention to the evidence presented in court. I think changes to the jury system that create smarter juries would be a great help for social justice.

  12. 12
    Sailorman says:

    As with the Duke case:

    I tend to believe accused people are probably innocent. I believed these people were probably innocent (which garnered “good for you”) and I believed the Duke rape folks were probably innocent (which got me called everything from a MRA to a rapist to a racist)

    I tend to believe that most convicted people are guilty. I know enough about the legal process to understand that sure, not ALL convicted people are guilty. but ya know, once a person has been found guilty, they’ve had their case looked at in serious detail. Our court system isn’t perfect but it’s pretty good.

    Certainly it’s a far step from 50/50: the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard means that someone (judge or group of jurors) who unlike us heard every single detail of evidence, saw every bit of testimony, etc… they concluded there was no reasonable doubt that the individual was guilty. So you really need pretty strong evidence to show they’re innocent after that.

    (by the way: i doubt the “keep it low to reduce chance of appeal” is true at all. Appeals are cheap; if you qualify for public services they can even be free. And there’s no penalty (e.g. harsher sentencing) for trying. I think whoever proposed that was confusing the process of a plea bargain, which makes going to trial (your right to do it) much more “expensive” than pleading.)

    But that’s neither here nor there. What I’m interested in isn’t exactly the claims of railroading versus the claims of good evidence versus the claims of race relations.

    No, what I’m interested in is inconsistency.

    Who here can claim consistency?

    Who here is willing to say–without all the qualifications, addendums, and embarrassed explanations–that their general beliefs regarding the criminal process don’t change with a whim?

    It’s as if folks are trying sooooooooooooo hard to avoid possibly saying anything which could, for example, be seen as either supporting the Duke folks, or (worse?) showing up the fact that they’re using–ahem–”slightly different” standards.

  13. 13
    pheeno says:

    “I tend to believe accused people are probably innocent”

    What do you believe about people not accused of a crime?

  14. 14
    Charles S says:

    Sailorman,

    If you believe convicted people are probably guilty, then why do you believe these people (who were convicted) are probably innocent?

    Here is the consistent standard: people who allege that they have been the victim of a crime almost always are. If someone claims that a crime was committed, then my default is to believe them (were the Long Beach teens assaulted? I assume yes. Was the woman at Duke raped? I assume yes). If some group of people is claimed to include the people who committed the crime (and there seems to be any justification for that claim) I tend to believe it (were a group of black teenagers involved in the Long Beach assault? I assume yes. Were the Duke students at the Lacrosse team house responsible for the rape? I assume yes.) If a particular person is accused of a crime, I tend to assume that the charge is legitimate (I would assume the opposite if I were on a jury, but I have the good fortune not to be a professional juror) but I will modify opinion based on whatever portion of the evidence I encounter, and whether I trust the source. In both cases, it seems that the charges against particular individuals are contaminated by illegitimate ID technique, so in both cases, the charges against specific individuals seem suspect. In neither case do I know enough about the total evidence to reach a clear verdict.

    It also matters that collective punishment (and other forms of wrongful conviction) is much much more likely to occur against non-white people than against white people in this country (and more likely to happen to poor people than to rich people), so it is much more likely that the teenagers convicted in the Long Beach case were not actually the criminals than that the Duke lacrosse players will be wrongfully convicted (if they are convicted, I will assume that they are guilty, as they have the best possible lawyers and a thoroughly poisoned jury pool (pro-acquittal)). I tend to be much more cautious in assuming that a specific non-white individual charged with a crime is actually the culprit than a specific white person charged with a crime (and likewise more cautious for a poor person than a rich person). I believe that the police are much more likely to intentionally and unintentionally frame POC and poor people than they are to frame wealthy white people, and I tend to assume that poor people will be much less likely to be able to get themselves acquitted if they are framed, so my likelihood of believing charges does vary with the race and wealth of the charged individual, but only because our judicial system’s reliability varies with those characteristics as well.

  15. 15
    Sailorman says:

    # Charles S Writes:
    February 27th, 2007 at 9:27 pm

    Sailorman,

    If you believe convicted people are probably guilty, then why do you believe these people (who were convicted) are probably innocent?

    ??? I tend to believe they are innnocent when they are accused/arrested. This changes when they are convicted. Is that not clear?

  16. 16
    Radfem says:

    Yes, the law in California involving sentences of minors in the juvenile system is with an emphasis on rehabilitation using the least restrictive measures. The laws have been changed through voter’s initative to give prosecutors

    Only the judge knows for certain, but here’s my guess: The judge wanted to give the defendants very little motivation to appeal their verdicts. That way, he’s less likely to have his ruling overturned, which is a real possibility because the evidence against most of the convicted kids is very weak.

    I’m not so sure about that. I think all of them maintained their innocence and it’s likely at least some of them or more were innocent. They probably will appeal regardless of the sentence, because some of the defendants and their parents did protest against the sentences.

    ??? I tend to believe they are innnocent when they are accused/arrested. This changes when they are convicted. Is that not clear?

    That’s what I thought you’d mean. I don’t know if your reasoning would apply in my county where 92% of those charged are convicted or plead out(which makes it difficult in terms of assessing the true rate of guilty defendants) and 85% of those arrested are convicted? I think at least part of that has to do with the fact that the conservative White proportion in the jury pool and consequently the high concentration of jurors in that poo that tend to believe what police officers testify to no questions asked. The only jury pool in my county which wasn’t at least 80% White was one where 69% of the jurors were people of color. That jury pool was recently broken up and separate factions of it were combined into surrounding jury pools.

    I might have more faith in the conviction rate being a good measure of guilt and innocence if it weren’t for the jury pool. And if I hadn’t talked to a good number of people who served on juries and jurors(after the verdict was delivered) and discovered some of the rationale they used to vote for conviction.

  17. 17
    Radfem says:

    Oops, didn’t finish part of the first paragraph.

    s, the law in California involving sentences of minors in the juvenile system is with an emphasis on rehabilitation using the least restrictive measures. The laws have been changed through voter’s initative to give prosecutors more discretion at determining whether minors can be tried in the juvenile or adult criminal system for some criminal offenses, which previously had been determined by juvenile court judges. I think the age is 14 and above.

  18. 18
    Sailorman says:

    Radfem,

    that quote in context (see my explanation of the judge/jury/evidence/reasonable doubt) was meant to discuss conviction after trial. Guilty pleas are a whole different beast. Perhaps that wasn’t clear in my OP

  19. 19
    Charles says:

    ??? I tend to believe they are innnocent when they are accused/arrested. This changes when they are convicted. Is that not clear?

    Actually, I mis-read ‘I believed these people were innocent’ as ‘I believe these people were innocent.’

    So you basically never believe that miscarriages of justice occur?

    Also, did you believe that the crime had occurred, but that the accused teens weren’t the culprits, or did you believe that the crime probably hadn’t occurred. I’m not going to bother to hunt them down, but I expect that where you gave offense on the Duke case was where you appeared to be doubting that the crime had occurred, not where you were doubting that the 3 men indicted were the right 3 men.

  20. 20
    Chris says:

    Ampersand, good post overall. One small quibble: In the Central Park jogger case, the convictions were based on what was thought at the time to be good, solid evidence–namely, the detailed confessions of the boys. It was only many years later (within the last few years, actually) that it was discovered that those confessions were coerced or fabricated due to illegitimate interrogatory pressures and tactics. Once that was determined, and the true culprit (who was in prison for another crime) confessed, and his DNA was matched to the case (if I recall correctly), their convictions were overturned and they were released. It was fascinating to see them interviewed after their release from prison, and specifically their responses to the inevitable question: “Why on earth would you confess to a horrible crime that you didn’t commit?” From what I recall, it was a mix of fear, exhaustion, unfair and intimidating interrogations, wanting to tell police what they wanted to hear, and suggestions from police that if they confessed they’d be treated leniently whereas if they maintained their innocence they’d die in prison (similar to the undue pressures and unfair arguments from prosecutors that cause some innocent people to plead guilty). So, you’re right to say that the boys were railroaded, but it’s a little unfair to say there was no evidence against them. At the time it seemed like an open and shut case, but only because no one knew of how fraudulent the confessions were.

    Also, thanks for bringing up the Duke lacrosse case. I think you have a reasonable take on it. In my view, from everything I’ve seen, there’s ample reasonable doubt there to acquit them if the case ever makes it to trial. The accuser’s seriously compromised credibility is only one reason I say that. Frankly, I’ll be surprised if it really goes to trial, but it could, and if it does I’ll be shocked if convictions result, unless the DA has some amazing ace up his sleeve that no one is aware of or is able to secure a highly tainted jury, but those things seem highly unlikely. What has appalled me the most about the Duke case, though, is how quickly people on both sides jumped to conclusions when the story first broke and before any hard details had emerged. I was annoyed by all the defenders of the players who immediately assumed them to be innocent and claimed the accusation was false and malicious, but I was equally annoyed by all the people who automatically assumed them to be guilty as sin and deserving of the harshest punishment right out of the starting gate. They included plenty of feminists, sex crimes researchers and advocates, African-American activists, etc. Watching the early coverage, it was rather nauseating to see (to take just one example) Nancy Grace and Wendy Murphy playing off each other in an amplifying feedback loop of rage and indignation. It was equally disturbing to see the Duke campus protests organized by feminists where banners with charming slogans like “Castrate them!” were prominently displayed. Jumping to conclusions, making assumptions, trial by media, and the like are HUGE problems with our criminal justice system, and it behooves all of us to remember the cardinal principles of our justice system and allow fair due process to take its course.

    With that in mind, I liked your comment that “no one should be convicted in court without sufficient evidence.” I wholeheartedly agree. However (and not to cause a tempest here) one thing that has troubled me over the years has been the tendency of some feminists (not all, not even the majority, but some) to call for a weakening of due process and our bedrock judicial principles in sex crimes cases, to correct what they see as an unacceptably low conviction rate. I’ll agree that the conviction rate in rape cases is low, but that’s due to the fact that many such cases provide almost textbook examples of reasonable doubt (e.g. your classic he said/she said with little or no corroborating evidence, no witnesses, and an accuser and defendant who both come across as reasonably credible). It’s already the case in this country that a rape conviction can be secured on the uncorroborated testimony of the accuser alone–there doesn’t need to be a witness, or any supporting physical evidence. Of course, just because the law says that doesn’t mean it actually happens. But it is possible. So if that’s not good enough, where do we go from here? Well, look to Britain for the answer. The government there has proposed legal changes to reverse the presumption of innocence, but ONLY in rape cases, so that defendants would have to prove their innocence by providing compelling evidence that consent was obtained. Naturally, as such a change would undermine a core principle of common law dating back centuries, it has provoked a storm of opposition–aside from the fact that it would only apply to ONE class of crime, and so would lead to unequal and discriminatory due process rights. I’m shocked and appalled that such a proposal has even been made and seriously debated, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that if the Robin Morgans of the world had their way, we’d be enacting similar things here in the US. Scary. I want to see rapists punished, but I also firmly believe in the principles of our justice system. I want to see justice, not vengeance.

  21. 21
    Chris says:

    Charles S,

    If a particular person is accused of a crime, I tend to assume that the charge is legitimate (I would assume the opposite if I were on a jury, but I have the good fortune not to be a professional juror)

    That is a dangerous attitude to have. All of us should at all times be highly skeptical of the government and its claims–not cynical, not reject them out of hand, but skeptical. And how would you so quickly and thoroughly reverse your position if you were chosen to sit on a jury? You’d go from unquestioning support of a criminal charge against a defendant as Mr. Regular Citizen, and then effortlessly and immediately switch over to rigorous skeptic of the charges as a selected juror? I find that dubious and troubling. Let’s just say that if I were ever charged with a serious crime, I would hesitate to have you seated on MY jury!

  22. 22
    drydock says:

    Ampersand– Glad you took a look at this issue even where there is disagreement.

    In a healthy society, vicious racial assaults would be vigorously condemned regardless of who’s the victim. My complaint with the Long Beach case, which doesn’t take away from the specific (racial, class, disability) issues in Mr. Johnson’s case, is that the liberal/left and LA’s political black political class were more or less AWOL. Some black progressives including Hutchinson, John Ridley, David Mills and Najeer Ali spoke up about this noticable silence from the left and condemned the crime, which in my opinion was 1. the right thing to do 2. politically intelligent 3. good for overall race relations.

    Much of the political left doesn’t have the political maturity to deal with these types of charged issues (particularly when race is involved) that get out of their comfort zone, which doesn’t go unnoticed by right wingers (like talk show hosts).

    In terms of whether the convicted youths were railroaded, I think that’s something that needs to be looked closely at. Especially when public passions are high, so collective punishment doesn’t happen. However, it’s pretty clear that some of the youths are guilty and that their were about 30 youths who know what happened and remained silent. Their was also ugly witness intimidation, which helped mitigate against the truth. Better progressive leadership could also help these situations work out better If any of the youths were railroaded I think their is some onus on the youths who were present to speak up.

  23. 23
    Charles S says:

    re: comments 9,11,12,15,16,18: (the whole “Who here can claim consistency?” side track)

    You know, this is a tedious holier than thou game from the get go. I’m done with the “Is my arbitrary method of judging the guilt and innocence of people in criminal cases I know nothing about more coherent than yours.”

    “tend to assume” does not equal “unquestioning support.”

  24. 24
    Chris says:

    It’s already the case in this country that a rape conviction can be secured on the uncorroborated testimony of the accuser alone–there doesn’t need to be a witness, or any supporting physical evidence. Of course, just because the law says that doesn’t mean it actually happens. But it is possible.

    And what I should have added to that statement is that I have serious problems with that aspect of rape law. I can understand why it was enacted, and clearly there are some cases where it can lead to sound convictions, such as a case where the only real evidence is the word of the accuser, but she is a solid, competent, highly credible witness with no questionable motives, whereas the defendant is the complete opposite. But in many cases, such as this example I gave:

    your classic he said/she said with little or no corroborating evidence, no witnesses, and an accuser and defendant who both come across as reasonably credible

    that will not be the case. In such situations, I’d have a very hard time seeing the accuser’s testimony as constituting proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, with little or nothing else to back it up. It is a criminal trial we’re talking about here, after all, and the defendant’s life (in a broad sense) is on the line. He’s facing a very serious charge of a reprehensible crime that is viewed by the public with disgust, and if convicted can look forward to a lengthy prison term followed by probation, and sex offender registration for life. To vote to destroy someone in such a manner, I’d better be thoroughly and unwaveringly convinced of his guilt, and the mere say-so of an accuser will not rise to that level for me, all other things being equal. Most jurors appear to feel the same way, since rape conviction rates lag behind those of other crimes.

    Of course, just because the law says that doesn’t mean it actually happens. But it is possible.

    And it does happen. Just not frequently, and usually in a case with a seriously problematic defendant or where multiple, independent accusations were leveled against the same defendant.

    The government there has proposed legal changes to reverse the presumption of innocence, but ONLY in rape cases, so that defendants would have to prove their innocence by providing compelling evidence that consent was obtained.

    I seem to recall the actual wording of the British government’s proposal to have been that the defendant would be required to provide “incontrovertible evidence” that consent was obtained to be acquitted. What this means is anyone’s guess. A signed, dated, notarized consent form? A date-stamped videotape of the sexual encounter? Who the hell knows, but whoever wrote the proposal seems to have forgotten the basic philosophical principle that one can’t prove a negative. That’s precisely the reason why civilized legal systems have enshrined the presumption of innocence, with the burden of proof resting on the prosecution, as an inviolable doctrine.

  25. 25
    Chris says:

    Charles S,

    “tend to assume” does not equal “unquestioning support.”

    So noted. Sorry for mistakenly exaggerating your position. I do, however, stand by my point that I feel more skepticism is warranted of the state’s claims and activities in the criminal justice system than you offered.

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  27. 26
    Rachel S. says:

    I tend to be :) of the same thinking as Charles, but personally I make several distinctions. First, I tend to believe the victim’s pronouncement that a crime happened. I can be convinced upon further evidence that a crime didn’t happen, but my sense is that most of the time crimes happened if people say they happen. Then, I distinguish between legal criminal innocence and innocence in the lay way of thinking. I think most (not all) of the time the investigators were genuine in their believe that the particular person they have pegged as the criminal and subsequently indicted (with the help of a grand jury) is likely the person who committed a crime. However, when it comes to a trial and legal guilt, I personally try to be opened to the possibilities, and I have a feeling that my view of reasonable doubt is probably much higher than other folks. In other words, I think my perception of the burden of proof would require more than most other folks because I really am concerned about the wrong people being convicted and sent to jail.

    Thus, for me I could see myself thinking someone probably committed a crime, but there is not enough evidence to convict the particular person on trial. (I believe that in the Duke case, and I think that is likely true for several of the defendants in the Long Beach case.)

  28. 27
    Chris says:

    Rachel S,

    I think you have a reasonable, fair, and honest approach to the issue and I think it corresponds pretty closely to my view. Leaving aside the celebrity angle, I think that attitude prevailed on the jury in the Michael Jackson trial, to offer just one example. The attitude was “he probably did it, but did the prosecution prove its case to the point that we were thoroughly convinced of his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt? NO.” I say the attitude WAS because I saw an interview with a juror (unsure if he was the foreperson) and he essentially said as much.

    I recall reading recently an article in my local press that examined what “beyond a reasonable doubt” actually meant to prospective jurors. Like, what percentage likelihood of guilt would you consider to be “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Answers were all over the map, from 90-95% certainty (that pretty much corresponds to my view), to 80% certainty, to 70-75%, and even lower. A couple of people actually said “over 50% probability”! Seriously! OMG, to say that this is a major problem with the jury system is a gross understatement.

    Thankfully, our system provides a plan B for aggrieved victims who weren’t able to secure justice through the criminal courts: civil court proceedings. There, the burden of proof is “preponderance of evidence” which is usually translated as “more likely than not” or “greater than 50% probability” (sadly, the couple of people I mentioned in the last paragraph would have been dead on had they been asked about the burden of proof in a civil proceeding, but alas they weren’t).

  29. 28
    Chris says:

    Rachel S, you wrote:

    Thus, for me I could see myself thinking someone probably committed a crime, but there is not enough evidence to convict the particular person on trial. (I believe that in the Duke case, and I think that is likely true for several of the defendants in the Long Beach case.)

    My only quibble with this is in re the Duke case. I’m personally of the opinion, having read up on the case extensively, that this case actually does represent a false accusation, rather than merely a case of an actual crime that lacks sufficient evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in court. That wasn’t my initial opinion or impression, mind you, but one I came to after a good deal of reading and research. But hey, I’m not involved in the case, it’s only my opinion, and reasonable people (who aren’t sitting on a jury) can disagree! ;)

  30. 29
    Rachel S. says:

    LOL!! Chris, I almost used Michael Jackson as an example. Although personally, I felt that he didn’t do anything to that particular child, but he has done bad things to other kids.

    I guess we’ll have to disagree about Duke. I am not of the false allegation view, in part because the vast majority of the information was have seen has been leaked and filtered by the defense. I suspect some of what they have put forth is truth, but I would want to see the prosecution’s case in its entirty before I came to such as conclusion, especially the false allegation theory.

  31. 30
    Chris says:

    Rachel S,

    You’re right, most of what we’ve heard has come from the defense, and it’s really not fair to say definitively that it’s a false allegation based on that alone. I too am interested in seeing the prosecution’s case, but frankly based on what’s happened to Mike Nifong over the last 2 months I doubt that it amounts to much. I guess I should have said that based on the research I’ve done, it’s my strong impression that the Duke case is a false allegation, although I’m certainly open to change my mind based on additional information. I guess we feel the same way in that regard, we’re just approaching it from different starting points, huh? Regardless, I agree with you that at minimum based on what’s come out so far, there’s nowhere near proof beyond a reasonable doubt. I wouldn’t hesitate for one moment to vote to acquit in this case, barring some prosecutorial “ace up the sleeve” of a magnitude that would bowl me over, as I mentioned in an earlier post.

  32. 31
    Ampersand says:

    Chris, a minor point regarding your comment #17 and the Central Park jogger case: It was known at the time, at least by some, that the confessions of the so-called wilding teens had been either faked or coerced. The Village Voice did a major article on it not long before the trial.

    It wasn’t a DNA test that freed the Central Park 5; it was the confession of the actual rapist. A DNA test alone wouldn’t have freed them, because the DA would have just claimed (and did claim) that all new DNA proved is that there was someone else in the group who hadn’t been caught.

  33. 32
    Chris says:

    Ampersand, thanks for pointing that out. I wasn’t aware that the fraudulence of the boys’ confessions was known by some (other than the cops who were responsible) at the time. That makes the case even more outrageous to me than it already was (as if that were possible). You’re right–they were railroaded, plain and simple.

    Perhaps I misspoke about the DNA test–what I meant to convey was that the actual rapist’s confession from prison came first and then DNA testing was done to confirm his account, and after that the boys were freed from prison. Well, by that time they were men, of course, but you get my point :) If I still have the chronology wrong please let me know, but that’s how I recall it playing out when the story of their release and initial false confessions broke a few years ago.

    Take care and keep up the good work :)

  34. 33
    Charles says:

    Indeed, the DNA was already known to not match any of the convicted teens, and while the jury was prevented from knowing that the confessions were coerced, they still anguished (this is known from their statements after the trial) over the fact that the confessions made no sense and were mutually contradictory. The jurors eventually imagined into existence some corroborating evidence (claiming to each other without any basis that some stains on the underwear of one of the accused were grass and mud stains, and that they must have been acquired while committing the rape, and that if one of the teens was involved in the rape, then they must all have been) and willfully completed the frame up that the police and the DA hadn’t been able to manage convincingly.

    From a recap article:

    The videotapes also showed rampant inconsistencies in the boys’ accounts of the evening in the park. During deliberations, jurors, especially those who discounted the confessions, tried to fill in the troubling lack of physical evidence. In the second trial, juror Ivette Naftal picked up Kevin Richardson’s underpants and showed the other jurors what she said were grass and mud stains — therefore, Richardson must have pulled his pants down and raped the jogger. Incredibly, the prosecutors had never tested the stains, so their origin remains a mystery. But Naftal’s argument swayed enough jurors to convict Richardson of sexual assault.

    In the two trials, Lederer, the prosecutor, did a skillful job of weaving the jogger attack into the series of random acts of violence committed by packs of 30 to 40 youths that night. Yet that broader picture — which prosecution sources still emphasize is crucial to the guilt of the five in the jogger attack — has a large flaw. None of the seven other joggers and bicyclists who testified about other incidents was ever able to identify McCray, Richardson, Salaam, Santana, or Wise.

    The majority of jurors, however, kept coming back to what they saw as a common-sense analysis: How could four of the five teens, with adult relatives by their sides, give richly detailed statements incriminating themselves in a horrific act that they simply didn’t commit? (Wise, 16, was unaccompanied; Salaam wasn’t videotaped.) And the majority of jurors eventually won the debate — though not completely through the weight of logic. Tim Sullivan, who had extensive access to the Central Park jurors for his book Unequal Verdicts, quotes one juror as disregarding the legal instructions of trial judge Thomas Galligan. “There’s always that danger, that jurors will try to come up with something, because at some point they feel like prisoners,” says Sullivan, now a producer at Court TV. “If a jury is in there for ten or twelve days, as these were, people start looking for a way to get out.”

    It is pretty clear that the fear that the culprits could conceivably go free led the jury to convict the wrong people, since those were the people presented to them as the culprits, and pretty much all of the information to come to that realization was available at the time (not that I was paying enough attention at the time to be aware of it).

  35. 34
    Charles says:

    Chris,

    You are correct that the confession by the actual rapist preceded the confirmation of the confession by DNA testing of the rapist, but the DNA was already know to not match any of the convicted teens.

  36. 35
    Chris says:

    Charles,

    thanks for the additional information. Wow. Good grief. The more detail that is provided, the more sickening and infuriating this case becomes. Even though it’s right that rank injustices like this case are exposed and made right, and the serious and systemic problems of our criminal justice system (or legal system as a whole) need to be discussed in an effort hopefully to mitigate and correct them, it still makes for a deeply upsetting task. It certainly doesn’t inspire much confidence in the system, does it?

    It also makes me question the age-old defense attorney truism “If you’re innocent, ask for a bench trial. If you’re guilty, ask for a jury.” When one reads some accounts of what transpires during jury deliberations in too many cases, it’s enough to make you jaw drop and hair stand on end. Jurors always must be motivated for a desire to see justice done, and must always remember that they hold the fate of real lives of real people in their hands. Sadly, I think many of them tend to forget that for whatever reason :(

  37. 36
    Chris says:

    Now that I re-read my second paragraph in comment #33 above, it doesn’t really make much sense. Perhaps I have the “age-old defense attorney truism” backwards? LOL Dunno. I’m sleepy this morning and my brain isn’t yet firing on all cylinders. YAWN. ;)

  38. 37
    Ampersand says:

    Chris wrote:

    What has appalled me the most about the Duke case, though, is how quickly people on both sides jumped to conclusions when the story first broke and before any hard details had emerged. I was annoyed by all the defenders of the players who immediately assumed them to be innocent and claimed the accusation was false and malicious, but I was equally annoyed by all the people who automatically assumed them to be guilty as sin and deserving of the harshest punishment right out of the starting gate.

    I’m actually okay with people having opinions right out of the gate, so long as they also realize and acknowledge that they might be mistaken. As Charles has suggested, the mindset required to be a juror is not the same mindset required of us as we read the newspaper.

    With 20/20 hindsight, there’s a lot to criticize about feminist/anti-racist reaction to the Duke case. But at the time, there was a fear that the case would end up being swept under the rug if activists hadn’t made a big stink, and given the circumstances I don’t think that fear was at all unreasonable. (.pdf link)

    The problem is that the media circus aspect of the case — an unintended but very real side effect of activists wanting to make sure the case wasn’t swept aside — became paramount. And once a media frenzy gets started, there’s no way to turn it off.

    It was equally disturbing to see the Duke campus protests organized by feminists where banners with charming slogans like “Castrate them!” were prominently displayed.

    I’m a little skeptical about this claim; doubtless there were isolated incidents of people holding up “castrate them” type signs, but from photos I’ve seen such signs are not typical. You can see photos of one of the biggest marches feminists at Duke organized here; the signs they’re displaying often assume guilt, but they don’t call for violence.

    However (and not to cause a tempest here) one thing that has troubled me over the years has been the tendency of some feminists (not all, not even the majority, but some) to call for a weakening of due process and our bedrock judicial principles in sex crimes cases, to correct what they see as an unacceptably low conviction rate.

    This is the sort of claim that’s improved if it includes a link to a specific feminist making such a proposal. Otherwise, it’s hard to know what you’re referring to. For instance, some people would say “rape shield” laws are an unreasonable attack on bedrock judicial principles, whereas I think they’re a reasonable protection for juries and rape victims.

    Similarly, I’d be interested in a link to a news story giving some specifics of the British proposal you refer to. Also, what has Robin Morgan said which supports your claim against her?

    I’m sure I seem overly touchy on this. You seem like a nice guy, and I’m certainly not saying you’d intentionally lie or mislead; but it’s possible that you’re mistaken, or that you’ve been lied to or misled. Over the years, I’ve see a lot of strong claims made about unreasonable things feminists propose, and very frequently the reality has turned out to be more nuanced, or essential details have been left out.

  39. 38
    Sailorman says:

    Charles Writes:
    February 28th, 2007 at 1:24 pm

    So you basically never believe that miscarriages of justice occur?

    Of course they occur. But in a general sense they occur as a small proportion of convictions after trials (I’m much less comfortable with plea bargains.) Generally speaking, the justice system is quite accurate. I certainly don’t hold the view–as some here apparently do–that my ability to judge the strength of a case based on media reports, news clips, etc, is anywhere near the accuracy that is found through a real trial.

    As for that “holier than thou” bullshit: You can be as inconsistent as you want. I’ve met folks who believe the accused should get the benefit of the doubt in all rape cases, but the victim should get the benefit of the doubt when it’s a black assailant in an assault case. I’ve seen the reverse, and i suspect I’ve seen it here: folks switch from believing accused to believing victim based on expediency.

    And as to why calling it “holier than thou” is bullshit: inconsistency between various statements on the same topic is a perfectly valid logical attack. It makes both inconsistent statements weaker.

    You or anyone else can be as inconsistent as you want. Just don’t bitch if you get called on it.

    Also, did you believe that the crime had occurred, but that the accused teens weren’t the culprits, or did you believe that the crime probably hadn’t occurred. I’m not going to bother to hunt them down, but I expect that where you gave offense on the Duke case was where you appeared to be doubting that the crime had occurred, not where you were doubting that the 3 men indicted were the right 3 men.

    Depends on how the crime is described. When someone persists in linking the crime and the accused (i.e. they keep saying “I was beaten up by Sailorman!” instead of “I was beaten up!”) then they have set the tone for discussing the whole package. In the Duke rape case, for example, very few people were separately discussing the crime and the accused, so responses to those posts focused on the whole package. But I don’t want to side track into a Duke discussion here.

    Rachel:

    Rachel S. Writes:
    February 28th, 2007 at 6:11 pm
    I tend to be :) of the same thinking as Charles, but personally I make several distinctions. First, I tend to believe the victim’s pronouncement that a crime happened. I can be convinced upon further evidence that a crime didn’t happen, but my sense is that most of the time crimes happened if people say they happen….

    I am a bit surprised by this! It’s really a zero sum game: the fight is between type 1 and type 2 error; between initial benefit to victim or initial benefit to the accused. The “believe the victim” tactic is, overall, a fairly conservative view, because more people will be convicted. And I’ve never thought of you as a conservative ;)

  40. 39
    Chris says:

    Ampersand,

    I’m actually okay with people having opinions right out of the gate, so long as they also realize and acknowledge that they might be mistaken. As Charles has suggested, the mindset required to be a juror is not the same mindset required of us as we read the newspaper.

    Fair enough. I guess what I was getting at was that the stridency of some people on both sides of the issue when the story first broke didn’t seem to allow for the possibility of them being mistaken and having to change their minds at a later date.

    I’m a little skeptical about this claim; doubtless there were isolated incidents of people holding up “castrate them” type signs, but from photos I’ve seen such signs are not typical. You can see photos of one of the biggest marches feminists at Duke organized here; the signs they’re displaying often assume guilt, but they don’t call for violence.

    I’ve seen photos on the web of some of the Duke campus protests where “Castrate them!” type signs were quite prominently displayed. In fact, they weren’t signs, but banners. I guess my point is that regardless of how many there were or how prominent they were or whether or not they were officially sanctioned, IMO such statements at a public demonstration with media present are at best unwise and inadvisable, and at worst repugnant and barbaric. Personally (and perhaps I’m biased because I’m attached to a pair of testicles that I’m quite fond of), I lean toward the “at worst” opinion.

    This is the sort of claim that’s improved if it includes a link to a specific feminist making such a proposal. Otherwise, it’s hard to know what you’re referring to. For instance, some people would say “rape shield” laws are an unreasonable attack on bedrock judicial principles, whereas I think they’re a reasonable protection for juries and rape victims.

    Sorry, I know it sounds awfully lame to make statements like that and not provide a link or something. Over the years, I’ve read statements by some prominent radical feminists (Robin Morgan comes to mind, perhaps also Marilyn French, Andrea Dworkin, Catherine MacKinnon) that appeared to endorse a weakening of defendants’ rights and due process protections in rape cases, along the lines of the recent British proposals that I discussed. Of course it’s possible that they were taken out of context and the reality is much more subtle and nuanced, as you surmised, but the statements I saw seemed pretty strong and provocative to me. I’d dig around for examples but I’m at work and busy and already breaking company policy with this post as it is!

    In re rape shield laws–I agree they’re a reasonable protection for juries and accusers, my only problem with them is when they’re applied too stringently and in inappropriate ways to exclude evidence that IS relevant, as has happened in some cases (for example the Oliver Jovanovic cybersex rape case from New York).

    Similarly, I’d be interested in a link to a news story giving some specifics of the British proposal you refer to.

    Please do a Google search and look at the British media. It’s a big story over there.

    I’m sure I seem overly touchy on this.

    Not at all. Your points and questions were all reasonable and valid. Please don’t see me as some renegade rape apologist either, because I’m not. I just don’t like it when a thirst for vengeance leads people to explicitly or implicitly endorse an erosion of fundamental principles of justice :)

  41. 40
    Radfem says:

    Radfem,

    that quote in context (see my explanation of the judge/jury/evidence/reasonable doubt) was meant to discuss conviction after trial. Guilty pleas are a whole different beast. Perhaps that wasn’t clear in my OP.

    Yes they are. Tulia. Texas quickly comes to mind where you had people who were later cleared of criminal convictions pleading guilty when they saw the first few defendants convicted and sentenced to very long sentences.

    Confessions are also a problematic, as the Central Park cases have shown not to mentioin the several hundred confessions thrown out in Cook County, Illinois not too long ago.

    Sometimes cases where the defendants are clearly innocent still continue for years before the truth comes to light. I know of a recent murder case locally where it was clear they had the wrong people because the heights, ages and weights of the defendants were so far off of what the witnesses described and there were no clear identifications made. There was DNA evidence in the case but the prosecutors sat on it for 18 months before testing it. It was negative for the defendants and positive for at least one or two others in a pool of eight men who were tested.

    DNA testing is very useful particularly as a tool to exonerate people, as has been shown with many examples including defendants on death row. But it’s problematic if the testing and collection of samples isn’t done properly or effectively. I was blogging on a fatal shooting of a man by a police officer who allegedly said he grabbed his taser, but when they ran the DNA test, they found his DNA and at least one other unidentified sample which means that they likely swabbed the entire device including the probes with one swab rather than taken different samples from different locations. In this case, it was necessary to do so because the man’s DNA could have been on it from being contact tased. So a test which if done properly could have provided some answers, instead just raised more questions. So DNA testing isn’t a panacea as many people believe it to be. The integrity, accuracy and usefulness of the test is only as good as those administering it, interpreting it and collecting evidence for it.

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  47. As a local lawyer I have handled numerous cases in the Long Beach Court. The problem is not that there are racial divides or discrmination it is that the system in inherently unfair to the juvenile defendants. I believe a jury is the only fair arbiter of the facts and until the law changes to allow for jury trials in serious cases.