"Presumed Guilty": Cleveland Has a Big Problem

The Cleveland Plain Dealer has the results of a nine month investigation, "Presumed Guilty: Prosecutions Without Evidence" in which it examined hundreds of cases ordered dismissed by courts because the prosecution failed to establish even basic elements of a crime.

In the past decade, Cuyahoga County judges have dismissed 364 cases mid-trial because they said prosecutors failed to provide the most basic evidence to sustain a conviction....The judges' rulings indicate that county Prosecutor Bill Mason's office has pushed hundreds of marginal criminal cases to trial in the past decade.

The DA's office prosecuted hundreds of people with little or no evidence. The grand juries serve as a working arm of the DA's office instead of as an independent panel. There's a lack of uniformity among judges in tossing cases for lack of evidence, which raises a question of whether justice is delivered evenly.

It's a terrific series, I recommend reading all five parts, including the profiles of the acquitted defendants.

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    cleveland mob war (none / 0) (#1)
    by jharp on Sun Nov 28, 2010 at 06:29:24 PM EST
    I grew up in that area.

    Do any posters here remember the Cleveland Mob wars of the 70's?

    In 1975 or 76 there were nearly 40 bombings.

    A few years back I sat as a grand juror (none / 0) (#2)
    by scribe on Sun Nov 28, 2010 at 09:53:21 PM EST
    though not in Cleveland.  It was all street crime and such - they had a separate panel spending all its time on sex crimes.  A couple of things I think I can say without violating confidentiality:

    1.  A good story by the cop/prosecutor, coherently told, will usually guarantee an indictment.  In other words, presentation is all.

    2.  People have been so thoroughly propagandized about "guns = bad" that any mention of a gun will flip a certain percentage of the jurors into indicting on any charge the prosecutor presents.

    3.  Hit a cop = get indicted.

    4.  I had to ask the prosecutor - lots of times - to read us the statute we were supposed to be indicting the defendant on.  Even then, we'd get stuff like "you don't need to worry about that" from some of the prosecutors.

    5.  I had to ask the prosecutor to delineate for us the standard the jurors were supposed to use:  " more likely than not that the crime you are charging was committed and that the defendant did it".  When we started, he was going to go right to seeking indictments without checking or bothering to ask whether the panel knew what they were supposed to use as the standard against which to evaluate the presentation.

    6.  One prosecutor threatened to indict me on a cocaine charge if I didn't stop asking questions that tended to poke holes in his swiss-cheese presentations of alleged cocaine charges.  We had a stare fight that had a couple of the other jurors shrieking in fright.

    7.  Race matters.  People in multiracial areas know - in their bones - when the cops are presenting something which is racially-driven.  Neighborhoods or towns, police departments, codewords, and similar all have their reputations and take them into the grand jury room.  We had one case in which the black defendant was before the grand jury for being on the wrong side of an auto accident with a white guy in a town with a notoriously racist police force.  In that case, the defense attorney took the opportunity to put his client before us to answer questions and got a no-bill for it.  It was patently obvious it was race-driven.  That was, FWIW, the only case from that sitting in which I remember the defendant appearing before the GJ.  

    My grand jury experience... (none / 0) (#5)
    by kdog on Wed Dec 01, 2010 at 10:42:38 AM EST
    was quite similar...and when we did no true bill one charge, we got a group scolding from the big shot D.A...apparently that never happens.

    The old adage "you can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich" has mucho truth to it.


    Whoa (none / 0) (#3)
    by sj on Mon Nov 29, 2010 at 11:41:33 AM EST
    That series was very sobering.

    Grand jury's fault (none / 0) (#4)
    by diogenes on Wed Dec 01, 2010 at 10:31:46 AM EST
    If the grand jury system is so broken, then maybe it should be eliminated; you could put all cases to priliminary hearings in front of a judge to establish probable cause.

    Some truth to that... (none / 0) (#6)
    by kdog on Wed Dec 01, 2010 at 10:45:55 AM EST
    many people I would describe as authority worshipers served with me...paying half to no attention, raising their hands like sheep to true bill, true bill, true bill every charge.