On December 26, 1862 the Dakota Indian named We-Chank-Washta-don-pee, or also known as “Chaska”, was sentenced to death by a military court of justice. Prior to the execution of sentence President Abraham Lincoln pardoned Chaska. However, his jailers confused him with another Dakota Indian and hanged him anyway. Of course everyone would agree that this was a tragic example of mistaken identification.
To often in the rush to close a case and go to the next open case the police will make a prudential judgment as to the guilt of a suspect without any evidence other than a hunch.
In a recent case that came to my office this week, a prior arrest free African-American female college student was accused of stealing a pocket book from the doctor’s office in which she had been sent for an IME by an insurance company. Inside the pocket book were numerous credit cards and other identifying information.
The same day the pocket book was stolen, a Black female was observed attempting to purchase a large amount of expensive merchandise at the Short Hills Mall with the stolen credit cards. Having nothing to go on but a grainy video of this individual purchasing these items with the stolen credit cards, the police decided to charge this college student on a hunch.
The college student is innocent and it appears that the police did nothing to really attempt to solve this crime and catch the real perpetrator of the crime. If the cops in this case had engaged in real honest police work they would have learned quickly that the college student was innocent and should never have been charged. Clearly this is a case of mistaken identity.
Again a rush to judgment on a hunch is unethical, unfair and dishonest and does nothing in the pursuit of justice. Unfortunately, this type of shoddy police work is more the rule than the exception and causes me great concern as a criminal defense lawyer in New Jersey.
As Pope John Paul I was quoted as saying, “If you want peace work for Justice.”
Law Office of Vincent J. Sanzone, Jr.
Elizabeth, New Jersey
Dated: June 22, 2011