26A Vane Attempt

"Don't Need a Weatherman To Tell Which Way the Wind Blows" 

A Series of Innocuous Blogs for Vainglorious Edification.

Pathetic Pathology
February 2, 2008

The recent case of forensic pathologist Charles Smith points to a disturbing trend in western justice.  The democratic principle that a person is innocent until proven guilty is slowly, inevitably eroding.  It is being replaced in media accounts that reach our eyes and ears, by a new form of self-righteousness.  It is a heavily weighted leap to conclusion without benefit of temperance, ethics or checks and balances.  All across the western world there appears to be a hive of authoritarian activity pressing the swarm to accept the corruption that guilt precedes innocence.  This is the case  that appears to surround Charles Smith.  Smith, a Toronto pathologist now under investigation for false expert testimony, has acknowledged that his errors sent at least two innocent people to jail.  In examining Smith’s own pathology we find a man who could not remove bias and prejudice from his professional work.   Smith apparently declared in advance of his testimony that one of the innocent defendants was, “Guilty as sin.” 

There are professions, jobs that pit men and women up against the worst of their own kind.  The uniformed cop, the combat soldier, the welfare worker, the corrections officer are all exposed  to the worst of human nature.  The newly arrived in these professions have a demonstrably different psychological profile than the veteran.  It is not just a stereotype that the veteran cop or corrections officer are darker, more cynical, often embittered men.  They are.  Their constant exposure to the seediest, corrosive nature in men rubs off on them.  They see the behavior patterns of so many criminals that it becomes infused in them.  Cops’ divorce and drinking and suicide rates are notoriously higher than those of less volatile professions.   In Smith’s case he performed nearly one thousand autopsies.  It is the cases of child deaths that Smith is under scrutiny for.  How does a man handle a torrent of broken, beaten children’s bodies without indulging in rage?  If one did not feel revulsion and anger at such crimes, how could they be human?

In a recent episode of the American crime drama “Shark,” Prosecuting Attorney Stark (a brilliant James Woods) threatens to cut off the flow of anesthesia to a badly burned arsonist in order to coerce a confession.  Even as his Co-Prosecutor barks warnings of its illegality, Stark proceeds and extracts the confession.  Later in a Judge’s chambers, asked directly if he used coercion, Stark  perjures himself with a denial.  When the Judge then asks the Co-Prosecutor if she can corroborate Stark’s claim, she hesitates, then perjures herself too.  The message is that people with difficult jobs, who deal in crime and punishment and the protection of the public - must be given special treatment.  Because their jobs are hard and they deal with the worst in society, so every once and a while they do what the criminal does - they lie, cheat, steal, tamper.  Dr. Charles Smith will undoubtedly defend the actions that sent innocent people to jail as actions taken in the interest of “greater good.”  Under the stress of a stressful profession - these men and women break laws, trust and sacred oaths  - because it is very difficult not to do so. 

The disturbing trend this leads to is a growing acceptance of lawlessness by authoritarians - because the world is increasingly a lawless place.  So what if our top law enforcement officers use a little torture to coerce confessions?  Don’t you feel safer knowing there are tough guys out there putting away tough criminals?  You go soft on crime and soon the criminal will be raping your daughter and stealing your SUV.   Charles Smith apparently took the law into his own hands.  Torture, coercion, framing, tampering, are all acceptable actions for authoritarians today.  But authoritarian is not the right word.  When law enforcement agents, cops, prosecuting attorneys and pathologists break laws with impunity, the right word is, totalitarian.