“At the end of the day, all we’re seeking is the same thing these students are: justice and truth.”
This was the response of the prosecutor’s office in Cook County, Illinois, when asked why they decided to subpoena academic records and emails of journalism students who worked at the Medill Innocence Project, an investigative journalism program affiliated with Northwestern University’s journalism school. The N.Y. Times has the story here.
You see, the folks at Medill have had remarkable success in uncovering and establishing cases in which individuals have been wrongfully convicted. This, of course, makes the prosecutors, who push for these convictions (some would say blindly) look bad. So in an attempt to turn the tables on the students, the prosecutors are asking for records that they say may demonstrate that the students are motivated not by the search for truth but better grades through exonerations. No doubt a serious charge. Lawyers for the school are, of course, fighting the prosecutors tooth and nail. And they should.
To be sure, the allegation that kids at Medill are motivated by grades is partially true. But this, I think, has less to do with the ultimate result of their investigations, than with the work and effort that precede them. I would venture to guess that there may be some correlation between the legwork that goes into a case and the prospect that it may result in an exoneration. With their heavy caseloads, prosecutors may not have the ability to devote the amount of time and effort to a case that a group of journalism students can. Yet that gives them no right to leech off of the students’ hard work, much less seek to intimidate them through subpoenas and unfounded accusations. Moreover, if the prosecutor is going press for a person to be put away for years or life, he or she better damn well have the evidence to back it up. If they don’t have the evidence then say so or don’t push for a conviction. In fact, when Justice Black was a prosecutor in Alabama, he and his assistants would inform a jury whenever there existed reasonable doubt as to the defendant’s guilt. Imagine that. A prosecutor who looks out for the innocent. So it is no use shouting and pouting, like the Cook County prosecutors are doing, and certainly proper, when their sham of a trial is exposed and the innocent freed.
The link to the Medill Innocence Project is listed in my Links section.