Sunday, February 08, 2009

Non DNA Exonerations

Today's New York Times reports on new efforts to exonerate prisoners in cases without DNA evidence. The article ends with a comment on the chilling awareness that comes from studying wrongful convictions : “One thing we’ve learned by studying these cases and litigating these cases is it could really happen to anybody,” said Daniel S. Medwed, a professor at the University of Utah who studies wrongful convictions. “Nobody is immune.”

In the entries published here, we've enumerated much of what resulted in Todd's wrongful conviction. They're the kinds of things that happen again and again across our nation: shoddy investigation practices, tunnel vision on the part of prosecutors and police, the cozy arrangement between prosecutors and investigators that results in their cherry-picking the evidence to support a conviction rather than a thoughtful examination that could lead to the truth.

Unfortunately, our criminal justice system has failed to provide mechanisms that can actually right the wrongs that result. The Times article reports, "At the University of Michigan, David A. Moran, a director of the new innocence project there, said it was 'scary' that compelling evidence of innocence was sometimes not enough to persuade judges or prosecutors."

And even when judges have second thoughts, their options are often limited and the road to exoneration is arduous. Again from the Times article:

A state judge in Missouri last August overturned the conviction of a man who had served 23 years for a murder in St. Louis. The judge cited the credibility of the prosecution’s main witness, who had recanted his testimony that the convicted man was the killer.

But the judge’s decision came six years after a panel of federal judges, having considered much of the same evidence, ruled that though it had “a nagging suspicion that the wrong man may have been convicted of capital murder,” it could not overturn the conviction of the man, Darryl Burton, because of numerous procedural impediments.

Read the Times article in its entirety here.


Anonymous said...

Craig Watkins: "Justice means we right the wrongs of the past."

Mr. Watkins is a D.A. with honor and a comittment to justice. It is most unfortunate Craig Watkins is in the minority when it comes to the preservation of justice.

There are far too many lives and families being destroyed due to the lust for convictions, usually for the sake of self-promotion and ego. The unwillingness of personnel working in 'law' to right the wrongs of the innocent is pathological.

The productive *conviction integrity unit* Mr. Watkins established should be a part of the entire American judicial system. The honor Craig Watkins demands in his command would strike dread for those who work in the courtrooms, especially in Colorado.

William Newmiller said...

It's interesting to note that by law prosecutors are to seek truth and justice, not just chase after convictions. Yet prosecutors like Craig Watkins are far from the norm, which is typified by prosecutors much more like Watkins' predecessor.