I was really struck by this post, but not for the reason its author was struck by the Met Commissioner’s apology. I know it’s old, but I’ve been busy. Sorry.
Anyway, maybe I’m misunderstanding him, but I’m surprised David Friedman would think that apology was in any way out of the ordinary. I’m pretty sure apologies from the government are usually meaningless. I imagine it’s the same everywhere. I’m not thinking as much about when wrongful government action kills people as I am about when the government wrongfully charges people. If you’re wrongfully charged, unless you spent a lot of time in prison or were on death row, “be thankful we eventually dismissed your case” is probably the best response you’re going to get.
The state is probably going to try to make you feel like it’s doing you a favor by not pursuing a case they don’t have the evidence to prove, and I bet the prosecutor still thinks you’re guilty no matter what the facts are. No one’s likely to say “our bad.” Definitely don’t expect to hear “sorry you had to pay for a lawyer, sorry your friends and family may never look at you the same way, sorry you lost your job, sorry you spent months or even years of your life waiting for trial.” Even if you’re lucky enough to hear that the government “accepts full responsibility,” I doubt any government employees will really be made to consider the harm their wrongdoing or incompetence caused. If someone is fired, it was probably because someone higher up in the pecking order (likely the actual person responsible for the injustice) had to pin it on someone. It’s politics as usual. It certainly isn’t because of remorse.
Government employees likely aren’t going to be inclined to accept responsibility in an individual capacity either. I suspect it’s discouraged, and even if it wasn’t, I don’t know many prosecutors who really think about the day-to-day consequences of their work. Are there any prosecutors reading this right now who have lost sleep after wrongfully charging or pursuing charges against someone? Have any of you ever acknowledged that a defendant who won at trial or whose case was dismissed due to lack of evidence wasn’t merely “not guilty” but actually innocent? Have any of you personally apologized to a defendant? If your supervisor found out you had informally apologized to a defendant without permission, would you be reprimanded?
I think I know the answer to those questions, and I have a hunch the average innocent criminal defendant would be lucky to hear something like what the Met Commissioner said.