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Balanced Fare: We Report, You Deride

Thursday, December 05, 2002

Joyce Purnick on the Central Park Jogger

More hope for the future of the Times. An excellent column on the Central Park Jogger situation. First, her big finish, quoting a law professor:

If the convictions are overturned, "In the law, these men will be innocent of rape charges," he said, and continued: "They're legally innocent. We will never know if they are factually innocent and have no effective means to answer the question of factual innocence. Many will believe they were railroaded. Many will believe they got away with it. And there is no way those minds can meet."

Now, a quibble:

But he will ask a judge to throw out their convictions for rape — and other assault charges — because of the new evidence: the Reyes confession and the other rape would surely have changed the verdicts.

Well, the legal criteria, as I understand it, is much lower: the new evidence might reasonably have led to a different verdict. As to the rape charges, the new evidence might well ahve led to a different result. As to the assault charges, well, it is not clear that the city could not win convictions on those in a new trial. However, it is certainly plausible that the assault verdicts might have been different if the new evidence had been presented, and that the rape evidence was prejudicial. However, uncertainty is not exoneration, as Ms. Purnick makes clear:

The criminal-procedure law does not envision a role for Morgenthau to go in and say, `I think these men are innocent,' " said Stephen Gillers, professor of legal ethics at New York University's School of Law. "This is purely procedure. It does not exonerate, is not meant to exonerate, any more than a not-guilty verdict exonerates, though most people don't realize it. It only says the prosecutor failed to meet the burden of proof."

Ms. Purnick goes on to explore methods by which a more satisfactory conclusion might be reached - appointment of a special prosecutor, for instance. But ultimately, she reaches the conclusion presented above.

So, was this a miscarriage of justice? In a strict legal sense, of course it was - the five served time for crimes for which they have not been convicted. That's easy. In a grander sense of "has justice been done", however, we just don't know, and will not know. Sometimes the bad guys get away, sometimes the innocent go to jail, and sometimes you don't know what happened.

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