The Injustice System is a powerful account of attorney Clive Stafford Smith’s failed efforts to prove that his client Kris Maharaj was wrongfully convicted for the 1986 murder in Miami of Derrick Moo Young and his son Duane Moo Young. However, there are really two stories at work here. The first story is that of the author’s fruitless actions to have Maharaj set free. The second and equally important story is a critical analysis of the U.S. legal system’s deficiencies. It is this second story that I found profoundly intriguing.
A lot of points that Smith brought to light concerning the judicial system were new to this reviewer and merit mention here. One of the first arguments that the book makes concerns the role that politics plays in how the prosecutor’s office proceeds with their cases. On pages 81 and 82 Smith describes how politics has lead prosecutors away from doing justice and into obsessing over conviction rates. In addition there is often a bias with respect to the fact that many prosecutors inherently believe that anyone who makes it to the defendant’s table is automatically guilty. This reviewer also found it intriguing that Smith underlines the fact that judges, jurors, and prosecutors are asked to make a decision about a defendant’s life without having had the opportunity to meet with the defendant or to get to know the defendant in any meaningful way. A brilliant analogy is made to the hiring process where the author states that he makes better decisions about which employees to hire after spending more time talking to them or having them intern under his direction. Smith on page 85 highlights the three flaws of the prosecutors which are the mindset of those who take the job, the reinforcing nature of the prosecutorial club, and the way the system discourages any contact between prosecutors and the person on trial. An example of prosecutorial zealousness gone awry in the book concerns the case of Shareef Cousins in New Orleans who as a defendant had a prosecutor that willfully withheld evidence and distorted the key witnesses’ testimony.
Another aspect of the criminal justice system is that forensic science may not be all that it is made out to be. On page 122 Smith argues that there is no scientist with an incentive to question the proposed hypothesis of a forensic scientist. As the author indicates on page 128, “There is no such person as an Anti-Forensic Hair Expert, someone who trains in hair analysis and then spends his entire life testifying that it is a sham.” As the author notes there must be others in the field who have the ability to cast a critical eye on a scientist’s hypothesis if the scientific method is to work. While the author speculates that an impartial scientific watchdog may be in order here he is equally aware that the funding such an organization may be impossible. In the face of an apparent lack of scientists challenging existing forensic scientific procedures Smith found himself called to trial as an expert witness in the flaws of the forensic analysis of hair samples because he had written an article on the subject.
Another interesting argument Smith makes concerns the role of financial remuneration for those attorneys who work on behalf of capital trial defendants. A blistering critique of the difference in pay between death penalty defense attorneys and corporate attorneys is made by the author. On page 151 Smith indicates that corporate attorneys straight out of law school make over $150,000 a year while a court appointed defense attorney for a capital trial in Texas was only paid $11.84 an hour. The author notes that making sure someone on trial for their life has the best defense possible is of more importance than the litigation between corporations over contractual disputes. However, as Smith underscores on page 155, “The structural problems with the system make it inevitable that people who face the death penalty are represented by the worst lawyers available.”
Another component of the legal system that the author takes aim at is the jury. The author appears to make the argument that some may not be competent enough to be on a jury. We can consider the case of Jack Davis in whose trial not one of the jurors knew what the word mitigating meant (page 229). In addition Smith notes that he encountered a jury foreman who believed that through ESP they could determine that Davis was guilty even though the evidence indicated the contrary (page 229). In the case of Tony Tanner jurors drank alcohol through the trial, smoked marijuana, and two jurors used cocaine (page 231).
While the book takes a journey through the shortcomings of the U.S. legal system the wrongful conviction of Maharaj is a central part of the book. The legal journey that Maharaj has been through since 1986 includes a judge who was convicted of bribery, lying witnesses, a defense attorney who was threatened not to advocate for his client, and a judge who asked a prosecutor for a sentencing order before hearing all the evidence. It is Smith’s opinion that the Moo Youngs were involved in drug trafficking and that they were killed by a Colombian hit squad. In the book Smith notes that a Colombian businessman was staying in a room near the hotel room where the homicides took place. In his quest for the truth the author acknowledges that he cannot discover the truth until individuals come forward with more information that may tell the story of what happened.
If you have any information that may help Clive Stafford Smith please contact him at:
phone: + 44 (0) 20 73534640
Reprieve, PO Box 52742, London EC4P 4WS