Thursday, December 19, 2002

Frankly My Dear...

Do county officials enjoy the same franking privileges as members of Congress, that is the sending of mail to their constituents free of charge? If so, I do believe I’ve been rigorously franked by the Ramsey County Attorney’s office. And if they have no such privilege, I have a suggestion for the slashing of what I suspect is another government budget in deficit. Stop providing postage costs for the sending of self aggrandizing political advertisements to your constituents under the guise of of providing vital information! (Do you think that’s catchy enough to be chanted at the next anit-Globalization rally downtown?)

In the mail last week I received something called the “County Attorney Report” featuring cover girl and part time morning radio personality, Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner. The headline and lede of the front page story led me to believe that perhaps there was some significant and important news being reported.

“DNA Project Exonerates Man in Rape Case - DNA testing initiated by the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office has resulted in the exoneration of a man convicted of rape and the identification of a new suspect in the case.”

Well now, that is good news. The organization involved with carrying out the government’s monopoly on force admitting a mistake, freeing an innocent man, and punishing the truly guilty party. This perception was reinforced with the Gaertner quote:

"We searched for the truth, and we found it," Gaertner said. "It is very regrettable that the wrong person was convicted of a crime. I am grateful that his innocence has now been established."

Bravo Susan, for freeing an innocent man! Unfortunately, the facts of the case intrude on this happy little exercise in self administered back slapping. As mentioned, almost in passing, later in the article, it turns out this “innocent man” is already serving a life sentence in prison for a double murder unrelated to this sexual assault. I guess this brings a whole new meaning to the term “innocent man.” But yes, I recognize the term can be used in a relative sense. And at least the Attorney’s Office now has identified the real perpetrator, and true justice can be administered. Right? Wrong. Buried later in the article was the news that although a new suspect has been identified, “The statue of limitations has expired on prosecuting the new suspect.” (Note - the crime in question occurred in March 1985).

Which brings up the point - what’s the point of all of this! Yes, I wholeheartedly agree that convictions decided in error should be investigated and overturned when new evidence becomes available. But in a situation where the wrongly accused is already in the jug on a life sentence for a different crime and the true criminal is already beyond the reach of the law, is the cost incurred for sophisticated DNA testing and the resources spent on reopening a 15-year-old case for a new investigation really worth it? I can’t imagine to whom-except for perhaps a politician like the County Attorney looking for some sympathetic headlines.
Headlines appearing in a publication produced by the County Attorney’s office no less, and distributed to her constituents’ door steps via the use of public funds (directly or indirectly). Talk about soft money campaign contributions!

For another entertaining criticism of this situation, though coming from an entirely different angle, check out what this guy has to say.

A more expansive and detailed version of the article appearing in “County Attorney Report” resides on the Ramsey County Web site as well.

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