Thursday, May 21, 2009

An Innocence Movement Platform – the Three ‘R’s: Raise, Resolve, and Remedy

Modern science and technology have shaken the strong faith many once placed in the accuracy of judgments made by our criminal justice system. Thanks to DNA analysis of biological evidence, hundreds of convicts have been exonerated—many after spending years on death row. Those who value justice, who demand that the criminal justice system apply the lessons learned from the many cases of wrongful conviction, support policy initiatives that:

  1. Raise the accuracy rate in judgments of guilt and innocence.
  2. Resolve credible post-conviction claims of innocence.
  3. Remedy the tragic impact of wrongful convictions.

Raise the accuracy rate

The Innocence Project has analyzed exonerations to reveal a broad collection of factors that contribute to the likelihood of wrongful convictions. Among them are:

  1. Eyewitness Misidentification
  2. Unvalidated or Improper Forensic Science
  3. False Confessions / Admissions
  4. Government Misconduct
  5. Informants or Snitches
  6. Bad Lawyering

The Innocence Movement supports policy reform that addresses these areas as well as other measures that can improve accuracy in conviction judgments. Reforms are needed in the areas of

  1. Juror education and training
  2. Plea bargaining
  3. Pre-trial incarceration
  4. Reducing prosecutorial misconduct—including misconduct deemed to be “harmless” error
  5. Restrictions on snitch testimony
  6. Increased accountability for ethical breaches
  7. Heightened expectations for defense attorneys
  8. Reduced case loads for public defenders

Resolve post-conviction claims of innocence

Most are surprised to learn that criminal appeals are not about innocence, but about trial procedure. The Innocence Movement supports reforms that provide venues and policies for resolving claims of innocence. Such venues and policies may include:

  1. Conviction Integrity Units such as the one begun by Dallas DA Craig Watkins
  2. Innocence Commissions such as those established in several states
  3. Appeal process that includes consideration of credible claims of innocence
  4. Preservation of physical evidence
  5. Testing of biological evidence, such as DNA, to resolve innocence claims
  6. Systemic review of convictions obtained through use of discredited techniques such as lead-bullet analysis

Remedy the impact of wrongful convictions

Wrongful convictions have tragic consequences, best avoided by reducing the number of wrongful convictions. However, wrongful convictions do occur and they profoundly affect the wrongly convicted as well as the victim of the crime. Wrongful convictions compound the tragedy of the original crime, leaving the wrongly convicted with greatly diminished potential and leaving the victims of a wrongly prosecuted crime with despair. Policies that can remedy the tragic impact include those that would:

  1. Help stakeholders in justice learn what went wrong with the process and how to fix it.
  2. Compensate the wrongly convicted.
  3. Provide transition assistance to the wrongly convicted.
  4. Reopen the investigation of the wrongly prosecuted crime.
  5. Counsel victims of the wrongly prosecuted crime.

Because no remedy is available when an innocent person is executed, the Innocence Movement rejects the use of the death penalty, and calls for its elimination. Further, the Innocence Movement supports enlightened approaches to incarceration that nurture genuine rehabilitation and reintegration of productive citizens.

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