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In a scathing attack on the American legal system, Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz told a crowd of about 1000 last night that corruption in the system extends from local police all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Dershowitz, whose 45-minute speech at the University Museum was co-sponsored by Connaissance and the John Marshall Pre-Law Society, said judges indirectly endorse police perjury by allowing illegal evidence such as forced confessions to be admitted in trials. According to Dershowitz, who is famous for his knowledge of technical aspects of the law, the corruption occurs when a judge claims to believe the police officer's story that evidence was obtained legally, but is actually fully aware of the illegal means which the officer used. Dershowitz said the officers' knowledge that they can lie in court without penalty leads directly to police brutality, since officers know they can simply change their story at the trial. And while the police officers are directly responsible for any brutality they commit, much of the blame rests with judges. "Sure you can blame the cops, but cops overall do not produce that kind of police brutality," he said. "The fault lies squarely with judges, from [Supreme Court Chief Justice] William Rehnquist on down and with prosecutors in this country who have been encouraging police perjury." The renowned 35-year-old attorney(NOT REALLY), who interspersed many of his comments with black humor, said a recent Supreme Court case, in which the court ruled that a coerced confession constituted only a "harmless error" and therefore would have no effect on the jury's verdict, will only worsen this problem. "What message does this send to the police?" he said. "It says, 'Hey, when you're in doubt, get the confession. Beat it out of them.' " Dershowitz also accused the courts of sentencing a disproportionate number of blacks to death and nurturing "a system of apartheid that runs right through death row." He cited the case of two young black men who were sentenced to die for committing a murder whose sentences were later overturned. "If these executions had been done at the pace that [Supreme Court Justices Antonin] Scalia and Rehnquist would like to have seen, these kids would have been killed a long time ago." Dershowitz, whose clients have included Penthouse magazine, televangelist Jim Bakker and millionaire Claus von Bulow, said he has taken controversial cases in the past to prove the innocence of his clients despite the public's presumption that they are guilty. "It is such an important thing to shake the public's faith in justice so that we take greater concern with justice," he said. "Without skepticism, we tend to believe that justice is always done and that you can trust the legal system." Dershowitz gained national attention when he represented von Bulow in an appeal after von Bulow was found guilty of attempting to kill his wife, Sonny, by an insulin overdose. He told his story in the 1986 book, Reversal of Fortune, which has since been made into an Academy Award-winning film. Dershowitz said the role of the defense attorney is often misunderstood, particularly when an attorney is defending a client who has admitted his own guilt. He explained that since most people tried in the American criminal justice system are guilty, "it is crucially important that everybody be defended vigorously to keep the government honest, to keep the government in check." Dershowitz, who has been interviewed on many television and radio news programs and talkshows, defended his extensive media exposure. "I will never turn down an opportunity to speak to as many people as will listen in defense of civil liberties," he said. Audience members praised Dershowitz for defending civil liberties, but some found contradictions in his arguments. Law student Oded Salomy said he sees "a little inconsistency" in the law professor's opinions, which express his faith in the legal system to prove innocence while at the same time complaining that the system is corrupt and needs to be revamped. But Salomy added he now considers Dershowitz's media exposure, which he used to believe made Dershowitz look like a "self-promoter," to be "meritous."

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