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Articles by David J. Krajicek

Paying the Piper

by David J. Krajicek, The Crime Report

Montgomery, Alabama’s City Court is a Debt-Collecting Machine

Montgomery, Alabama--Anyone who wishes to enter Municipal Court in Alabama’s capital city must first be sanctioned by a court officer who scans your belongings, then polices your attire.

“Tuck in your shirt and I’ll be glad to let you in,” he says.

It is a small point of order amid what criminologist Marvin Zalman describes as America’s “sloppy” criminal justice process.

The best place to observe messy justice may be in courts of lowest jurisdiction: the municipal and county courts that deal with felony arraignments, misdemeanors and the more than 50 million traffic violations issued each year.

On one recent morning, about 100 people with tucked shirts lined the hardwood benches before Judge Milton Westry, a bald black man who peered through wire-rimmed glasses. His gaze was divided between the defendants who stood briefly before him and a computer monitor just to his left that gave him case histories of the accused.

The vast majority of accused lawbreakers that day were African Americans. About 55 percent of Montgomery’s population of 205,000 is black. But nine out of 10 people in court that morning were ...

America's Guilt Mill

by David J. Krajicek, The Crime Report

Thousands of Americans, many of them poor, are wrongfully convicted each year for crimes that don’t make headlines. While innocence advocates focus on lifers, those falsely accused of lesser crimes are the overlooked casualties of our overburdened courts.

When Rachel Jernigan was falsely accused of robbing a Gilbert, Ariz., bank 15 years ago, she expected the American criminal justice system to do the right thing.

“They tried to get me to plead guilty,” Jernigan says. “They told me they were going to give me 27 years (in prison). But I said I’m not going to plead guilty for something I didn’t do. I really believed I was going to come home from my trial. I was shocked when the jury found me guilty.”

Sentenced to 14 years, she spent more than seven years in prison before the real robber was identified by Jernigan’s determination and a fluke twist.

“If it can happen to me,” Jernigan says, “it can happen to anyone.”

And it does. In a sense, Jernigan was a lucky exception. Experts believe that thousands of people are wrongfully convicted each year in America for the types of crimes that Jernigan was ...

‘A Freakishly Rare Anomaly’

‘A Freakishly Rare Anomaly’

by David J. Krajicek

America’s Awkward Relationship with Wrongful Convictions

Americans have a complicated relationship with wrongful convictions.

As schoolchildren, most of us began each day pledging fealty to this country in an oath that ends with a promise of “justice for all.”

But for most of our modern history, we have preferred to keep unjust court outcomes out of sight—the loony uncle in the attic. As social psychologist Melvin Lerner argued 50 years ago, we hold firm to the core belief that people get what they deserve—that bad things do not happen to good people.

As innocence scholars Larry Golden and Keith A. Findley wrote in 2013, we treat wrongful convictions as “at worst a freakishly rare anomaly not worthy of concern.”

That became more difficult in 1987, when Colin Pitchfork was charged in Leicestershire, England, with the rape and murder of two girls based upon the inaugural use of DNA evidence.

It quickly occurred to legal advocates that DNA evidence could be used not only to catch the guilty, but to exonerate the innocent.

The first beneficiary in the U.S. was Gary Dotson, a Chicago man who had been falsely accused ...

Mass Incarceration: The Most Important Political Issue of 2016 No One Wants to Talk About

Mass Incarceration: The Most Important Political Issue of 2016 No One Wants to Talk About

The mushrooming prison population is a political ticking timebomb.

by David J. Krajicek

Five years ago, while America clutched a tin cup during the recession, politicians shouted hallelujah about saving money by reducing the country’s grossly bloated prison population.

The national inmate count declined fractionally for a few years, reaping celebratory headlines. One expert quoted by the New York Times declared “the beginning of the end of mass incarceration.”

Then came the bipartisan miracle--the Koch brothers linking arms with libertarians and progressives to declare support for criminal justice reform, prompting dreamy talk about cutting prison rolls in half, to levels last seen before mandatory minimum madness began in the 1990s.

But as another legislative season toddles to a close, where are the broad reforms?

“Right now, the focus is still on reforming sentencing for nonviolent, first-time offenders,” says Nkechi Taifa, a senior policy analyst with the Open Society Foundations. “This is the safe, low-hanging fruit of reform…And it’s like pulling hen’s teeth to even get that kind of legislation passed.”

How will the nation’s prison population decline significantly if there is no political will to ...