Video: "In Justice"

updated 3/2/2006 12:03:08 PM ET 2006-03-02T17:03:08

A new crime drama called “In Justice” on ABC is looking at the other side of the criminal justice system, focusing not on the cops making the case and putting people behind bars, but instead on lawyers finding cases of injustice and trying to correct them.  The leaders, David Swain, a charismatic talented attorney with questionable ethics and his chief investigator Charles Conti, a former cop, who is set on seeing justice served. 

Kyle Maclachlan who plays the charismatic attorney David Swain; Robert King the executive producer and co-creator of “In Justice;” Joshua Marquis, district attorney for Clatsop County, Oregon and vice president of the National District Attorneys Association and Steve Drizin clinical law professor and legal director for Northwestern's Center on Wrongful Convictions joined ‘The Abrams Report’ to speak about the ‘injustice’ of the legal system.

To read an excerpt from their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

DAN ABRAMS, HOST, ‘THE ABRAMS REPORT’:  Kyle, let me start with you.  Tell me about your character and then I want to ask Robert King about how he decided to create this program, but your character is what? 

KYLE MACLACHLAN, PLAYS DAVID SWAIN ON “IN JUSTICE”: David Swain, a lawyer of questionable ethics.  He is a wonderful character.  He's the creator, founder of our particular justice project.  He is a man who has rediscovered a passion for the law with this new organization, formerly a corporate lawyer.  He is brash.  He's over the top.  He's a bit of a peacock but ultimately he is about righting the wrongs of the justice system.

ABRAMS:  And it's not just about finding cases where DNA will help exonerate someone, right?  It's actually about going and finding the bad guys too. 

MACLACHLAN:  Yes, it's a two-pronged approach so we spend a little time in the court and a lot of time out in the field, which is where my co-star Jason O'Mara spends a majority of his time in doing the investigative process.

ABRAMS:  Do you now personally have people saying to you, you know, there's a great story you guys should do.  I know this person who was actually innocent or a friend of a friend says there's this great story you guys should do. 

MACLACHLAN:  Some of these things are beginning to filter in from what I hear back from ABC, some of the e-mail contacts they have and the blogs that they have, people are saying hey I need to get in contact with you because I've got a case.

ABRAMS:  Robert King, how did you decide to start the show?  I mean as you know, some people are going to say that there is a political statement effectively being made by this program, that there are just tons of people being wrongly convicted. 

ROBERT KING, “IN JUSTICE” EXECUTIVE PRODUCER:  We didn't start that.  We just saw that there were so many investigative shows on the air that were just kind of taking it from one side and it just started with the thought that we just wanted to do something different.  We wanted to see the case from the other side. 

ABRAMS:  I read in one of the articles that you said you described your wife as liberal and you as conservative? 

KING:  Yes.  We wanted to see the dynamic played out between Kyle's character, which was much more from the Clinton side of the universe and Jason's character, Conti, which has a little more of a conservative bent.  He's a policeman, an ex-policeman, who had a bad experience and now is working with someone that he can kind of appreciate, tolerate at the same time, and we find that same dynamic played out between my wife and me in writing these shows. 

ABRAMS:  So is this ripped from the headlines” as the “Law and Orders” are? 

KING:  Not the same way.  Stu Bloomberg, our other executive producer, called it ripped from the heart and in many ways we always find situations in stories that we find the core of anger, the thing that makes our characters angry and makes us angry and then we make up a story based on it and also, we play off what's going on currently in some of the junk science that is being debunked.  We always have some element of something that is happening today, but the stories themselves are fictional. 

ABRAMS:  Is it different as an actor to be involved in a program that does reflect a national debate? 

MACLACHLAN:  You feel tremendous responsibility.  And my research, I take my research much more to heart.

ABRAMS:  You're going and talking to lawyers?

MACLACHLAN:  Yes.  But most recently I was up at Santa Clara University talking with the organization up there, really getting a feel for what they do.  I mean these are people that are actually doing this, so I'm there to absorb their energy, their passion, their commitment.  And it was very helpful to be a part of something, because I took it back to my other cast members and we talked about it and realized that what we've created, what Robert's created, all of us have created is not so far from the real deal. 

ABRAMS:  Now there are legitimate cases in real life of innocent men and women who have served hard time, some on death row, only to be cleared later by DNA evidence or other circumstances, which show the person couldn't have possibly committed the crime. 

But is the problem really that pervasive?  Are there really thousands and thousands of men and women behind bar who should not be? 

Professor Drizin, let me start with you, how pervasive a problem is it? 

STEVE DRIZIN, CENTER ON WRONGFUL CONVICTIONS:  The truth is, is we don't know how pervasive a problem it is.  What we know is that it's far more frequent than we had ever imagined before DNA evidence. 

There have been 174 DNA exonerations and we know in every one of those cases, the person who was wrongfully convicted was actually innocent and we know that those cases make up only a fraction of the wrongful conviction pie, because in most cases, there are not—there's not DNA evidence and in many of the typical kinds of crime, burglaries, robberies, there is no DNA evidence and in many of the murders and rapes where there may be DNA evidence, the evidence has been destroyed or degraded, so that gives us a sense of the problem but no one can say with certainty how big it is. 

ABRAMS:  Joshua Marquis, if you listen to that and you watch the program “In Justice”, you sure start to feel like there are thousands of people who are being wrongly convicted. 

JOSHUA MARQUIS, DISTRICT ATTORNEY, CLATSOP, OR:  If you watch this program, their original promo was that every year thousands of innocent Americans are wrongfully convicted, based on true stories.  Now they've apparently backed off that, because this is largely fiction, and there are, as you say, people who have not done it, people who are innocent. 

The question is, there are about, I'd agree, about 170 people who have been exonerated by DNA.  The question we have to ask is out of what universe.  And the answer is about—out of about 20 million convictions.  There was a study done by a professor named Samuel Gross presented at a symposium at Northwestern University in which I participated last year, in which they said that they studied from 1989 to 2003, not just DNA cases.

They were able to identify 380, 400 roundup cases where people and they thought there were more.  Let's assume that they were wrong by a factor of 100, that there were 100 times more people wrongfully convicted than they say.  That means that if that were true and there were 40,000 in that period of time, we'd be talking about a rightful conviction rate of 99.997 percent.  Now, admittedly, and I'm sure Steve will say well, if you're one of those wrongfully convicted people, that's one too many.  That's true.  The question is do we have a problem that's episodic or epidemic?

ABRAMS:  Steve.

DRIZIN:  Well no one is claiming that it's epidemic.  What we're claiming is, is that the problem is substantial and that focusing on the numbers really minimizes the scope of the problem incorrectly.  When we have a plane crash or a train wreck or a coal mining disaster, we're not asking about the safety record of the airlines.  That's not the first thing you ask.  You ask what went wrong and what can we do to prevent this from happening again.

And too much focus on whether this is episodic or epidemic minimizes the fact that lives are involved here.  Human tragedies.  People's lives are destroyed and we should be trying to minimize that in whatever way we can. 

MARQUIS:  People’s lives are destroyed daily.  I'm in court every day.  We have millions of Americans who are the victims of violent crime.  Our legal system is intended to err on behalf of the defendant and if we were to be really worried about the injustices that are occurring every day in the United States, it's probably going to be about wrongful acquittals, not wrongful convictions.  That doesn't mean that we don't try to do better.  And the American justice system has evolved enormously in the last 20 years. 

ABRAMS:  What do you make of this program, Josh?  When you heard about them making this program, did you get up in arms?  I saw you wrote an op-ed piece where it's the first line of your piece?

MARQUIS:  I got pretty fired up because prosecutors from around the country wrote me because this show was being promoted during bowl season and you had Brent Mussburger and all these big time people intoning these very words, every year, thousands of Americans wrongfully convicted, so you're right, I did get fired up and “The New York Times” printed an op-ed about a month ago in which I said look, this is largely drama and fantasy.  That's fine if you take it for that, but let's not try to believe that what's happening on Kyle's show is that much different than some of the characters he played when he worked for David Lynch. 

ABRAMS:  Steve, do you believe that thousands of people are wrongly convicted every year? 

DRIZIN:  I have no doubt about it.  I can't give you an exact number, but if you just were to take the fraction of cases involving non-DNA cases and you were to sort of extrapolate what we know about the DNA exonerations, there would be thousands.  We get between 50 and 75 letters a week from people in Illinois and around the country claiming that they're innocent and we can only look at a small fraction of those cases, and when we look at that small fraction, there are very serious claims of actual innocents in those cases. 

Watch the 'Abrams Report' for more analysis and interviews on the top legal stories each weeknight at 6 p.m. ET on MSNBC TV.


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