Saturday, February 28, 2009

Former FBI Director Sessions Speak Out

Writing in Slate, William Sessions, FBI Director from 1987-1993, urges the Obama administration to rethink its position on post-conviction DNA testing. In the article, Sessions recalls his surprise at DNA results after the FBI installed its DNA testing lab:

The results of the first 100 tests in 1988 astonished me. In three out of 10 cases, not only did we have the wrong person, but the guilty person was still at large. Many of them were unidentified and dangerous. DNA testing overall has produced dramatic results, exonerating a total of 232 people, including 17 on death row.
Commenting further, Session writes, "As I know from experience, law enforcement's predictions about a defendant's likely guilt are no substitute for actually performing a DNA test." Still, on Monday the administration will argue that William Osborne, an Alaskan convicted of rape, has no right to test DNA that could prove his innocence.

Sessions go on to say:
What interest does Alaska have in denying Osborne access to this evidence, thus obscuring the truth? He has offered to pay for the testing, so the state will incur no financial cost. In any case, federal money is available to help pay for testing for those who cannot afford it. Osborne did not willfully bypass advanced DNA testing when he was tried 14 years ago; the sophisticated testing he requests did not exist then.

Session comments further:

Evidence of innocence does—and must—matter to all of us, whenever it is presented. I have no idea whether Osborne is guilty. If the DNA shows that he is, so be it. But what if it shows he is not? Wouldn't victims of crime want to know if the wrong person is imprisoned, and the real perpetrator is still on the streets, free to commit more crimes? Wouldn't all of us want to know this?

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