Rules Versus Justice:

In an essay on judicial ethics in Legal Affairs, Judge Alex Kozinski raises an interesting hypothetical relating to whether judges should bend rules to reach particular results.

  [C]onsider this example: You are reviewing a criminal appeal where a young man has been convicted of murder and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. You examine the record and find that the evidence linking the defendant to the crime is quite flimsy. The only solid proof supporting the conviction is the testimony of an inmate who shared a cell with the defendant while he was awaiting trial, and who swears that the defendant confessed to the murder (a confession the defendant denies making). You read the snitch’s testimony closely and find it transparently unconvincing.
  Applying the rules of appellate review in an objective manner, you would have to affirm the conviction. After all, the jury is the trier of fact, and it was entitled to return a guilty verdict based on the jailhouse confession alone. Yet what if you believe, to a moral certainty, that the confession is a fabrication and the defendant didn’t do it? Must you affirm the conviction and let a young man you believe is innocent spend the next 60 years locked up like an animal in a 7-foot by 10-foot cage?

  I have enabled comments; I’m not sure that this is the kind of issue that will generate a good comment thread, but let’s give it a try. Thanks to Howard for the link.

  UPDATE: The comment function should be fixed now– sorry for the inconvenience.

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