By John Grisham . . . It is refreshing and inspiring that Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) has recently made use of his singular power to grant absolute pardons to three wrongfully convicted men.
Pardons and exonerations are bittersweet. On the one hand, the years of hard work by innocence lawyers ultimately pay off, and some measure of justice is found as the wrongfully convicted finally make their dramatic walk out of the prison gates. On the other hand, it is infuriating that our criminal justice system is so broken that bogus convictions happen at all. Innocent lives are destroyed. The guilty roam free. And the police and prosecutors are almost never made to answer for their bad behavior. If the authorities played by the rules, virtually all wrongful convictions could be avoided. . . .
Notwithstanding Northam’s courageous actions, the commonwealth can take no satisfaction in the pardons. In fact, the commonwealth was complicit in causing and perpetuating the wrongful convictions. From the incompetence of its investigators to the misconduct of its prosecutors, Virginia’s criminal justice system broke down along the usual fault lines. And the injustice was compounded by the years of hardball litigation required to uphold them. After the trials, the cases were handed off to the attorney general, who, by law, was required to fight the appeals filed by the wrongfully convicted. The appellate wars dragged on for decades.