Thursday, March 02, 2006

Truth and Fairness

In Colorado v. Connelly, 479 U.S. 157 (1986), the Supreme Court of the United States said:
The aim of the requirement of due process is not to exclude presumptively false evidence, but to prevent fundamental unfairness in the use of evidence.
But what could be more unfair than the use of "false evidence"? What could be more unfair than readily avoidable conviction of the innocent?

The dichotomy the Court poses -- avoidance of inaccurate factual adjudication in criminal cases and avoidance of unfairness in criminal cases -- is a false one. Recognition that the disjunction is spurious is essential if the Court is to use the Due Process Clause -- as it should -- to ensure that the criminal justice system achieves some tolerable degree of accuracy in the adjudication of factual questions on which conviction or acquittal hangs.

There is more than a little bit of irony in the fact that in Connelly the Court approvingly quoted its own prior statement that "[t]he central purpose of a criminal trial is to decide the factual question of the defendant's guilt or innocence."

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