Investigative fails hurt justice

Alyssa Reynolds | Evergreen Columnist

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Amateur investigation freed a previously convicted child murderer.

An Arizona woman was released after spending more than 20 years on death row when her conviction was overturned due to a lack of proper criminal procedure. Investigational errors that lead to the obviously guilty receiving their freedom based off of a technicality should never occur.

The Lower Buckeye Jail in Phoenix released Debra Milke earlier this month, according to CNN. Her story began in 1989 when two men found her 4-year-old son Christopher Milke shot to death outside of Phoenix. According to the New York Times, Milke was convicted for ordering her son’s death to claim a $5,000 insurance policy she had taken out on him.

This story is especially disturbing to the public because her son thought he was going to see Santa at a mall. Instead, he was taken to be murdered in the desert.

After a trial, Milke was convicted of murder, kidnapping and child abuse on Oct. 12, 1990, and sentenced to death.

According to CNN, “no…witnesses or direct evidence (linked) Milke to the crime” other than an insurance policy and an undocumented interrogation between Milke and Phoenix police Detective Armando Saldate Jr. Additionally, all of Saldate’s notes were apparently thrown away after he filed them.

Saldate claimed Milke understood her rights, according to the Phoenix New Times. However, it was one word against the other, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled there was no evidence Milke had been read her Miranda rights.

Even a first-year criminal justice student would know that Milke’s release is reprehensible.

Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ Chief Judge Alex Kozinski ruled that prosecutors failed to disclose Saldate’s questionable credibility, according to the Huffington Post. Unfortunately the Judge’s ruling was legally correct, so we must blame Saldate’s failure to follow the standard investigation protocol for why the case is still dragging on more than two decades later.

Failure to record any evidence of the admission diminishes the integrity of the judicial system. In this case, the prosecution was so quick to get the verdict to trial, there was no diligence to go through the proper procedure. Evidence must be gathered more mindfully.

Simultaneously, this kind of carelessness is also the reason why innocent people are found guilty. The Innocence Project is an organization dedicated to prove wrongful convictions through biological tests. The non-profit works to raise awareness of the flaws in the criminal justice system. The organization believes that between 2.5 to 5 percent of all inmates are innocent, and many people have been wrongfully incarcerated and even lethally injected before it was discovered that they were innocent. This simply should never happen.

I also have to question the objectivity in this case. Would things have gone smoother if the victim had not been an innocent child? I can imagine it’s hard for investigators to remain objective, especially with a crime as disgusting as the murder of a child. Regardless, our justice system is based on the belief that the facts of a case have been concluded objectively and that they have not been swayed by disturbing details.

According to The Police Chief Magazine, faulty investigative thinking is to blame for wrongful convictions. Lack of awareness by the investigators of the traps they can fall into leads to criminals being released on technicalities.

While we as Americans are privileged to have the judicial system we do, it is still imperfect. There should be more careful gathering of evidence and a call for better training so mistakes like Saldate’s never occur. Investigators should always use correct protocol so innocent people are not found guilty and criminals are not set free.

-Alyssa Reynolds is a senior communication major from Ferndale. She can be contacted at 335-2290 or by [email protected] The opinions expressed in this Column are not necessarily those of the staff of The Daily Evergreen or those of Student Publications.