Saturday, May 26, 2007

Judge Morris Hoffman and the Wrongful Conviction Rate

Since the publication of his op-ed piece in the April 26 Wall Street Journal, Morris Hoffman's claim of an astonishingly low wrongful conviction rate (0.00065 %) has been embraced by some as an indication that we should simply stop worrying so much about wrongful convictions. Close readers of Hoffman's article--and those who actually passed 5th grade math--should be cringing at the starting assumption of Hoffman's calculation: that 20% of all trial verdicts are wrong.

Hoffman reduces the 20% number to .00065% by dividing the 20% by the enormous number of cases that are plea-bargained.

For those who have rejoiced at Judge Hoffman's conclusion that wrongful conviction is rare, let me ask: Is a 20% error rate at trial acceptable?

Hoffman mentions parenthetically that innocence projects fail to mention cases where defendants are wrongfully acquitted. What he fails to note is that a wrongful conviction is really an especially pernicious kind of wrongful acquittal. Remember that when a crime is committed and the wrong person is convicted, the actual perpetrator goes free--something that should outrage all who are concerned about victims' rights.

The problem of wrongful conviction is one that should concern all thinking citizens of all ideological stripes.

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