The desire to know the truth, and the willingness to do hard or even frightening things to get it, is a preventative against evil.In December 2005, Charles Plinton, an African-American student at the University of Akron, took his life after being kicked out of school on drug charges.
When you look at the evidence, Plinton’s innocence is clear; he was tried in criminal court and acquitted in only forty minutes. In fact, his accuser was a felon and a paid informant who had a financial incentive to declare him a criminal. (The University of Akron paid the informant $50 “for each alleged drug deal he struck with the student” that he reported to the administration)…Since Plinton didn’t have the funds to hire an attorney and appeal his expulsion, he returned home to New Jersey and ultimately committed suicide.
The University’s own campus judiciary didn’t use the rules of evidence that our courts use, rules that were learned from many years of experience.
The author of Unlearning Liberty, Greg Lukianoff, who I quote above, himself quotes Judge Learned Hand, who said:
I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much upon constitutions, upon laws and upon courts. These are false hopes; believe me, these are false hopes. Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it…
Lukianoff, whose book is on freedoms being eroded on campus, especially the right of free speech, also says the following about another type of crime. “The idea of rape should and does fill us with rage and disgust. But crimes that produce such anger and outrage are precisely those where due process becomes most important. Our righteous hatred..can cloud our judgement.”
Our court system gives us the ability to face our accusers, learn what we are accused of and even to cross-examine our accusers.
Unfortunately, campus judiciaries have been pressured to lower their standards of proof in these cases.
Lukianoff says that “In my years at FIRE, I have seen students who I am quite convinced committed sexual assault be let off …precisely because due process..had been so badly eroded as to allow for favoritism. On the other hand, I have seen students I am quite confident did nothing wrong found guilty of rape because the school…gave too much discretion to the hunches of administrators.”
He gives the example of Caleb Warner, who was expelled from the University of North Dakota on charges of sexual assault. Three months later, the police filed charges against his accuser, for filing a false police report. Warner asked his university twice for rehearing and was denied twice. Only after an article on it appeared in the Wall Street Journal did the University relent.
You can be in a situation where all evidence points to your guilt, and yet you are innocent. One way this can happen is if you are framed by others deliberately, but sometimes witnesses honestly make mistakes. You can make things even worse by incriminating yourself. One example is the Paul Ingram case. Paul was arrested for abuse of his daughters in 1988. They had been prayed over by a Christian “prophet” who had diagnosed them as having been abused even though they had no memory of it before they met him.
Initially Ingram remembered nothing, but he was convinced that his daughters, both strong Christians, could never lie. Later, after intense police interrogation, and the “counsel” of his pastor/counselor…Paul began to enter into trance-states of mind and produced fantasies of how he had ritually and sexually abused his children.
He ended up in jail, and only after he was transferred to a state prison, where he was away from his pastor, did he began to think critically and realized he had made it all up. Interestingly, in the court, Richard Ofshe, a sociologist brought in by the prosecutors, found himself doubting Paul’s guilt. So he came up with a test. He made up a story about abuse that he said Paul’s daughters accused Paul of, and then Paul returned to his cell, prayed, and hours later produced a detailed written account of the events that Ofshe implanted.
But Paul was in jail for fourteen years before being released. Our criminal justice system is not always adaptable to new facts.
Another thing we should realize about reality is that normally we are correct in making the fewest assumptions as possible about a case or an accused. But this is not always true.
Sometimes you have to ask – for something to be true, for a person to be innocent, what would have to be true?
You might have to assume a whole bunch of bad guys who have nothing better to do than frame someone. You might have to reconsider your assumptions about human nature, or at least of the nature of bad guys. You might even have to posit a futuristic technology… who knows.
You may find yourself accused in the court of public opinion, and actually wish you were in a court of law, where you could face your accusers, and rebut their arguments. (I was in that situation).
But truth-seeking is important in politics and other realms as well. Due process, free speech, and the scientific method all require recognition of human fallibility, and they make it easier for the truth to come out.
Hiroo Onoda, a Japanese soldier in World War 2, did not learn the war was over, and wasted 29 years of his life hiding in the jungle of the Phillipines, and shooting at people. Finally he was found and convinced to go home. He had shown extreme dedication and toughness under adversity, and done what many people could not have done. But he was also a fool.
Who, when they were on their last day on this earth, would like to think back and realize they had spent their lives believing a lie?
Unlearning Liberty – Greg Lukianoff (2012)
Second Thoughts – Paul Simpson (1996) – on the Ingram case and false memories in general
http://www.jaapl.org/content/37/3/332.full – causes of false confessions in the U.S.
http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2010/02/a-japanese-soldier-who-continued-fighting-wwii-29-years-after-the-japanese-surrendered-because-he-didnt-know/ – on Onoda.