An eye for an eye, bad cops and their prosecutors

Looking at my Zondervan’s Exhaustive NIV Concordance, I find three places in the Bible’s Old Testament that refer to an eye for an eye, a tooth for tooth. I want to address third because it can be relevant today.

The first two are what people reference when they argue that religions are inherently harmful. I won’t answer that question. Those passages are about retribution for injuries caused by one person on another. They’re pretty graphic to drive home the point. For example, in the Common English Bible, Exodus 22:23-25 refers to a “burn for a burn.” Its Leviticus 24:19-20 mentions “broken bone for broken bone.”

The third use of the phrase “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” is in Deuteronomy 19:16-21. This verse is in a different context, as it addresses false accusations. I can argue that it applies to modern times. Not the harsh penalties described, but rather that false testimony is a very serious offense. However, currently, officials with power can be rewarded for false testimony without fear of any reprisal or penalty.

In the Common English Bible, the passage is “Now if a spiteful witness comes forward against someone, so as to testify against them falsely, the two persons who have a legal suit must stand before the Lord, before the priests, and before the judges that are in office at that time. The judges will look into the situation very carefully. If it turns out that the witness is a liar–that the witness has given false testimony against his fellow Israelite–then you must do to him what he had planned to do to his fellow Israelite. Remove such evil from your community! The rest of the people will hear about this and be afraid. Show no mercy on this point: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.”

The King James Version in its classic style reads “If a false witness rise up against any man to testify against him that which is wrong; Then both the men, between whom the controversy is, shall stand before the Lord, before the priests and the judges, which shall be in those days; And the judges shall make diligent inquisition: and, behold, if the witness be a false witness, and hath testified falsely against his brother; Then shall ye do unto him, as he had thought to have done unto his brother: so shalt thou put the evil away from among you. And those which remain shall hear, and fear, and shall henceforth commit no more any such evil among you. And thine eye shall not pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.”

Although, the described remedy for the false witness is much too harsh for modern times, what is the sentiment and who can it apply to?

In the United States criminal justice system, the incentives for the police, district attorneys and prosecutors are heavily weighted toward getting a conviction not toward finding the truth. The prosecutor can have an incentive to withhold exonerating evidence from the accused to not “lose” a case. The district attorney may use animus against a person, group of people or race when they decide who to prosecute. The police officer can be rewarded by their number of arrests not the more difficult-to-measure goal of making the community safer. Bad cops are willing and at times successful when they plant drugs on a person to arrest and convict them.

The incentives are so skewed so that even if a conviction is proven to be false, some state governments are required to protect the conviction and prosecutor but not the falsely accused. If a false conviction is made, there very few consequences for the powerful and limited venues for revealing the truth for the weak.

The gist of this version of an “eye for an eye,” is that falsely accusing someone is a serious offense. If the reason for the false accusation is animus and prejudice, all the more reason to take action against the accuser, especially if they occupy an elevated position of power and responsibility.

In addition, the exhortation “look into the situation very carefully” should allow the situation to be repaired after a trial is over. The justice system should be rebalanced to diligently find justice and the truth, not get and save convictions.

Deuteronomy 19:16-21 indicates that it is important that a false accuser be held responsible. By describing harsh penalties, it strongly emphasizes that point. Legislation toward that aspiration for the criminal justice system is worthy of consideration.

The Prisoner’s Dilemma and Kobayashi Maru

An Octopus

At group today, I found a way to Kobayashi Maru the prisoner’s dilemma.

The prisoner’s dilemma is an example in game theory that has no obvious solution. John and Frank were arrested for an alleged robbery, in our example, a warehouse. The idea is that the two prisoner’s are separated and interrogated independently by the police. The police say that if you confess and implicate the other person, you’ll only get 1 year in prison and the other will get 20, but if both of you confess, you’ll both get 10 years.

The prisoner’s dilemma that pits loyalty against self-preservation. There isn’t any clear way to behave. It’s a test of character and the relationship between two people.

Kobayashi Maru is a famous incident in Star Trek history. It’s a simulation of a battle with the Klingons. Basically, the captain can’t win and will end up dying along with the rest of his crew.

Kirk, famously, cheated and reprogrammed the simulator to let him win.

So me and my partner come up with a backstory to the alleged crime. The two of us had been friends since 7th grade. When were were 20, we went to prison because of a automobile theft. Now the pair was 35. About a month before the arrest and warehouse incident, we’d had a falling out because of a mutual love interest.

So, my out-of-the-box solution: I confessed that I had done it, but the other person was innocent. He had just been in the wrong place at the wrong time and it was actually a third person who was my co-conspirator in the robbery. In my mind when we played out the game, I was telling the truth and not just making up a story for the friend. But, regardless, I think it would blow out of the water any deal that the police had proposed.

In the experiment that we did today, the other person confessed as well, so according to the rules of the dilemma, we would both get 10 years in prison. The group leader didn’t reveal my actual note….

In summary, I had used my loyalty to my friend to help him out. It threw the whole situation in the air so that a prosecutor be required to sort it all out and the police wouldn’t have the tidy mutual confession.

It certainly would not be good for me in my solution. I used my loyalty to my friend to, potentially, put my life at risk. If the third person was vengeful, he could easily arrange for me to be killed.

So, I broke the dilemma, just as Kirk had broke the Kobayashi Maru simulation.

Transcending tricksy reading

I was just glancing over this paragraph and my vision played a trick on me. It comes from IUPUI’s website.

The Office of the Vice President for Information Technology has steering committees in place to help develop strategies and establish priorities for shared administrative and academic systems. The Oncourse Priorities Committee has specific responsibilities for ensuring thoughtful and timely decisions regarding priorities for Oncourse, IU’s online collaboration and learning system, and for recommending policies to guide its effective use. In light of next.iu.edu, the OPC will also provide guidance to the Learning Technologies Steering Committee regarding any future selection of a new learning management system for Indiana University. Below is a list of current committee members:

After glancing at the document, I was certain that I saw the word “transcend” somewhere in it. When I looked it over repeatedly, I found that “transcend” was not there at all.

Perhaps this is along the same line as the mistakes that can be present in eye-witness testimony. One can remember an event that might have taken only a fraction of a second. Over time the event will gradually shift from being a movie to a short story. This short story can be adjusted by people asking questions or reinforcing story facets with feedback and positive reinforcement. Talking with another witness can confound ones memories with the other person’s memories so that both are wrong.

One specific example of this is in police investigations. The police (for the most part) don’t try to manipulate the witness, but they have an effect by asking some questions and not others. Also, they can give reinforcement to certain details with their comments by thanking the witness for their information. In some situations, such as with children, these adjustments are very hard to avoid.

The movie and short story feel equally true, but after a while they won’t match the actual events that happened. As the short story then turns into a sound bite, the eye witness can be wrong, sometimes in catastrophic ways for the plaintiff defendant.