Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Unintended Lessons From MLB?

"Today is for everybody who has ever been wrongly accused,"
Ryan Braun, Major League Baseball Player (The MLB) - Milwaukee Brewers. 

This is a very interesting statement.  I wonder if Mr. Braun is referencing the 289 individuals that were exonerated from criminal sentences; where they were wrongly accused?  Before I get into this, I must say, this is not a bash Braun post. Remember I always look at both sides of the issue. That being said, ask yourself can the criminal justice system learn anything from this ordeal?

Background: Ryan Braun was the National League MVP for the 2011 season.  The MLB has a drug testing policy which suspends players if they test positive for a list of banned substances.  Once a player test positive for an illegal substance the MLB sentences them according to their guidelines. The player then can appeal to a panel which includes a MLB representative, a representative from the Player's Union (The Union), and a third party arbitrator.  The third party arbitrator is the key here, because the player is given the option to have his guilty verdict reviewed by another authority, and present evidence that The MLB may have been flawed in their testing procedures/process.  Braun did just that, he won his appeal by a 2-1 vote.  The "1" vote against was The MLB.   Braun won his appeal on a technicality.  As required by the drug testing policy, the sample was not shipped for testing as soon as possible, and instead was kept in a cool place in the sample collector's home.  Baseball screwed this one up. Or did they?

The MLB has confidence in their drug testing policy. They use the best resources available to ensure the accuracy and integrity of the procedures.   Quite frankly, performance enhancing drug usage has been a black eye over baseball for years.  One would believe that the process would be heavily relied upon and all procedures had been carefully crafted. If a test came back negative all parties involved should trust and believe in its accuracy.  Braun basically won his appeal on a technicality.  There was a question of chain of custody of the handling of his sample.  There was no sign of tampering, or any other type of negligent or malicious act.  There were also other instances where the samples were kept in a safe place before they were sent to FedEx to be shipped off to the lab.  The lab carrier who stored the Braun samples said there had been many instances where the same procedures took place, and nothing harmed the sample. It's like putting a covered glass of water on your nightstand, three days later steroids magically appear in the water. This does not happen.

Ok, nothing malicious happened. Yet, there is a procedure that should be followed.  The integrity of the process was compromised as soon as the chain of custody was broken. The policy is a good policy, but like every good policy all the steps need to be followed. Take for example a crime scene. If the investigators get on the scene, they collect the blood, fingerprints, and/or clothing. These items are left at the investigators house overnight.  If this happens, one could question the validity of the evidence.  The accused of the crime may say, "yes that is my blood", BUT how can I be 100% sure that the blood was not contaminated?  Why was the blood sent to the investigators home and not directly to the crime lab?  The accused would then, and rightfully so, say this evidence should not be presented as evidence that could prove his guilt. This is the same argument Braun has made.  No way can he be held guilty of failing a test, when the procedures to prove guilt were not followed.  Even in the absence of malicious intent, intentional of negligent tampering, the sample should not have been left unattended with the collector.  Braun winning his appeal, and subsequent exoneration from guilt of using illegal substances were justified.

Interesting case. Could this be a lesson for criminal crimes?
  Think about it, Braun's own statement was that this is a win
for everybody who has been wrongfully accused.  Well, the
significant difference here is that most people who are
accused do not have the access to challenge the ruling of a
conviction.  We have many people who are incarcerated
around this country, that never had their DNA retested, or
the process called in to question giving them a fair retrial. I
applaud The MLB for having a policy to catch wrong-doers,
but also having a system where a third party arbitrator can
reevaluate the evidence or collection of evidence.   I do not
know if Ryan Braun is guilty or innocent, I do know one
thing, I believe more individuals should be able to challenge
their verdicts of guilt.  Yes, our system has legitimate appeals
processes, but many do not have the access or resources to
even present their cases.  What is the remedy?  Do we follow
the lead of The MLB, where all criminal cases should be
arbitrated? Should this be absolute?