Does the State Have an Interest in Convicting the Innocent?

That is the question Matthew Yglesias asks about Thursday’s majority ruling by the Supreme Court in the case (pdf here, via Glenn) of a convicted rapist who sought to prove his innocence through DNA testing that was not available at the time of his trial:

Obviously, the purpose of the established system of criminal justice is to use punishment of the guilty as a means of controlling crime. The general hostility of most people in the law enforcement and prosecutorial universe to exonerating evidence is a little bit hard to understand. The predominant thinking of Alaska in this case seems to be that the punishment of the innocent works as a close substitute for the punishment of the guilty, so that given the heinous nature of the crime the state has a strong interest in convicting someone or other of it irrespective of the facts. This is exactly the sort of madness and injustice we rely on the judicial system to rescue us from. But not the new Roberts Court!

Scott Lemieux argues that this case, and another one decided this week that involved age discrimination (Gross v. FBL), point up the absurdity of Justice Roberts’ umpire analogy to describe the role played by Supreme Court justices:

… In these cases, as in most interesting appellate court cases, the relevant constitutional and statutory provisions admit multiple plausible interpretations, and choosing among these interpretations inevitably involves value judgments. If you don’t place a high value on protecting the ability of states to arbitrarily detain individuals and protecting the ability of employers to discriminate against their employees, you don’t want justices like Alito and Roberts on the Court, and this has nothing to do with whether or not they’re competent lawyers.

Something is missing from all these analyses, however — Glenn tells us what it is.

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