Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Evidence and the Supreme Court

The US Supreme Court heard oral arguments yesterday in a case brought by an inmate who has been denied testing of DNA evidence that the State of Alaska says would definitively prove either his innocence or guilt.

My question: why would the people of Alaska not want to know for sure if the inmate, William Osborne, was in fact the perpetrator? My guess is that the people--the real people, not the fiction that the prosecution represents--would want to know. Which leads to another question: why do citizens put up with prosecutors with little interest in seeking truth?

One might understand a rogue prosecutor here or there, someone like disgraced District Attorney Mike Nifong who went after the innocent members of the Duke Lacrosse Team. Or William "Bull" Peterson, who continued as DA for Ada Oklahoma, even after John Grisham exposed Peterson's shenanigans in the book Innocent Man. But here's a Supreme Court case--the state of Alaska joined by the US Department of Justice and by many other states arguing that there is no constitutional right to testing evidence that can determine innocence!


Courtney said...

It shocks me. I read an article once about a man who was released after being proven innocent with DNA. He then sought compensation and someone commented on the article that he deserved no compensation because he plead guilty! If only people understood the factors that lead to innocent men being incarcerated.

Sometimes it feels as though people don't really understand what innocence is. They see a man who's been to prison, or who is in prison and no one in prison could possibly be good or decent.

It's almost a collective state of denial, like facing the truth means accepting that it could happen to anyone, and that reality is just too terrifying to face.

William Newmiller said...

The innocent are often punished for maintaining their innocence. For example, parole boards often require inmates to show remorse as a condition for release. How does one show remorse for a crime not committed? The result: those who are innocent remain incarcerated longer than those who are guilty of their crime. The fifth amendment concept regarding self-incrimination is sorely tested by such policies, in my opinion.