The Constitution Project, a pro-defendant think tank popular with the media, has just released this study claiming that the quality of indigent defense is being threatened by the economic crisis.  The Project is claiming that innocent people will go to prison if vast additional amounts of funding are not directed to indigent defense.

This is hysteria.  Accumulated evidence of the last 25 years actually proves the opposite — that wrongful convictions are extraordinarily rare — whereas wrongful acquittals — or, more commonly, non-prosecution of crimes — are everyday events.

Contrary to news reports, the biggest risk factor for wrongful conviction is committing other crimes.  Many of the men now celebrated as “innocents released” are actually convicted sex offenders or other types of criminals charged with the wrong crime.  That doesn’t make any single wrongful conviction less tragic, but it does cast doubt on the media’s presumptions about the real causes for these exceedingly rare events.  Meanwhile, hundreds of innocent crime victims are denied justice every day because the people who robbed, burgled, or even assaulted or murdered them are never brought to justice for the crime, or are given a slap on the wrist, at best.

There is no statistical evidence that defendants are being systematically denied rights.  There is overwhelming statistical evidence that victims are systematically being denied justice.

But don’t expect those in the media to consider this as they rush to craft stories around the Constitution Project’s new study.  Expect articles that begin with canned anecdotes, proceed to uncritical recapitulation of the Project’s conclusions, and end without airing differing opinions.  Mostly, expect articles that do not reveal the fact that the reporter did no reporting but merely repackaged an academic study and presented it as news.

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