Justice Demands Post-Conviction DNA Testing

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The Washington Post has another story in which two men convicted of a crime have been exonerated by post-conviction DNA testing:

Newly tested DNA from rapes committed more than 20 years ago has exonerated two Virginians who had each spent more than a decade behind bars, reigniting a national debate about post-conviction testing of biological evidence.

Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) announced the test results Wednesday. One of the defendants served 20 years in prison for a rape in Alexandria that the new testing shows he did not commit. The other man was released in 1992 after serving about 11 years for an assault in Norfolk. The governor did not reveal the names of the exonerated men because they had requested privacy. He said he would expedite their pardon requests.

Reason has long been in favor of expeditious post-conviction DNA testing. If there is biological evidence that could exonerate a prisoner, it should be tested period. And state legislatures and Congress should supply the tax monies needed to do it as fast as possible. If government is not about rendering justice, what the hell else is it about?

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  1. Dammit, I thought you meant the Justice Department, or at least one of the Supreme Court justices.

    The implications of unchanging virtues can’t compel the Bureau of Prisons to do squat.

  2. “If government is not about rendering justice, what the hell else is it about?”

    Confiscating our land, wealth and freedom in return for a false sense of security.

    Not a bad tradeoff, eh?

  3. I don’t know if this is still true, but it used to be, in Virginia, that after a conviction you only had 30 days (or possibly 21, I don’t remember) to introduce new evidence. So if Joe, say, is convicted of a mass murder, and then 31 days after his conviction I find a videotape clearly showing that someone else did the murder of which Joe was convicted, too fucking bad for Joe–he can apply for a pardon, but he has NO right to a new trial.

  4. Jennifer: That was the case, but fortunately that was changed a couple of years ago.

  5. Now that’s fucked up. What a horrible law.

  6. I was just thinking, that the government is like a very stupid perosn who hires clever people to do whatever stupid thing he decides should be done.

    If government is not about rendering justice, what the hell else is it about?
    The purpose of monopoly is to resrtict supply. In the case of justice, that applies also.

  7. Ron Bailey–

    Well, thank goodness for small faovrs, I guess.

  8. Jennifer, there’s still the Supreme Court ruling from circa 1990 that declared that evidence of innocence did not give a defendant on death row the right to a new trial.

  9. Once again, “If you don’t do anything wrong, why are you afraid?”

  10. Jennifer, there’s still the Supreme Court ruling from circa 1990 that declared that evidence of innocence did not give a defendant on death row the right to a new trial.

    Comment by: joe at December 15, 2005 11:59 AM

    Yes, I know. Which is why more and more I’m convinced the justice system has nothing to do with justice, or getting dangerous people off the streets. . . .it’s all symbolic. A crime has been committed, we will imprison Someone for the crime. So long as Someone is imprisoned, that’s okay. Doesn’t have to be the Someone who did the crime, though.

    It’s like the people who admit bag searches won’t stop a determined subway bomber–but that’s okay, at least the government is Doing Something. It doesn’t have to work, so long as they Do Something. And the way to deal with crime is to Imprison Somebody, no matter if it’s the right one.

    Also, if your country is attacked you must Invade Somebody, but again it doesn’t have to be the somebody who actually invaded you.

    So in summation: Doing Something is far more important than Doing Something That Will Actually Work.

  11. 10 points to the first person who can find a blogger seriously suggesting that cases like this should be ignored because they could undermine our fatih in government/justice system.

  12. Number 6 —

    This is close but not on DNA, so 5 points.

    http://thoughtsonline.blogspot.com/2005/12/much-more-on-cory-maye.html

    — A name not a number

  13. Strange timing on this item, because I happened to see the documentary “After Innocence” last night.

    I highly encourage everyone to see it if it plays in your area. I understand it’ll come to Showtime sometime next year.

    Very wrenching stories about people exonerated after years spent in the prison system. Ex-IL gov Jim Ryan comes off very well from his interview and discussion about suspending the death penalty; conversely the DA’s for the Wilton Dedge case in Florida come across as system-apologist fuckwits. Even after DNA evidence showed that the pubic hairs from the rape scene were not his, they kept him in administrative purgatory for THREE YEARS until he could get a hearing before a judge.

    Here’s the IMDB entry:
    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0436039/

  14. Someone help…I seem to have a disconnect.

    Why POST conviction testing and not pre-conviction testing? I mean I know for old cases it wouldn’t be possible, but for anyone who has not been convicted, or is facing trial, shouldn’t this be a mandatory part of the trial? What am I missing?

  15. ChicagoTom,

    They already do pre-conviction testing now. The cops want to develop evidence, and innocent criminals want to be exhonorated. This is only about old cases – cases in which forenstic evidence has been stored, and new technologies developed since the trial.

  16. One wonders just how much exculpatory evidence gets sat on by prosecutors. The political pressure to convict, convict, convict is amazingly high (party affiliation in this matter is 110% irrelevant, I might add). Frankly, if I had put someone behind bars who was innocent, I would do everything in my power to get him out. Besides mundane morality issues, prosecutors have an ethical and legal duty to cough up evidence before and after trial than tends to exonerate the accused. Defense counsel can be scum, but I can’t believe the crap that state’s attorneys are capable of.

  17. Ron Bailey,

    Well, there were ways around the law, including a federal habeas corpus claim (though obviously the latter has been pared away following 1996).

    Pro Libertate,

    One wonders just how much exculpatory evidence gets sat on by prosecutors.

    If it is then its a violation of their Brady duties.

    Jennifer,

    The law honors finality to a degree that we may not like. Also, in comparison to the sort of criminal justice found in the 19th century, procedural and substantive rights for the accused and/or convicted are much more substantial.

  18. I believe that the overwhelming majority of prosecutors genuinely want to find and punish the bad guys. Part of the problem is that most district attorneys are elected officials and have to respond to public pressures. There are good reasons to have them be directly accountable in that way, but the major side effect is a tendency toward “body counts” and quickly closing cases that maybe shouldn’t be closed.

    Of course, the other side is that DNA evidence is able to provide 100% exoneration pretty much only in rape cases–it is usually used as one piece of a larger case in other types of criminal trials. As such, you can understand why prosecutors would want some kind of limit on the ability of ‘jailhouse lawyers’ to file endless appeals over DNA evidence, even where said evidence was a small part of the case presented against them. And nobody in prison is guilty. Just ask them.

  19. I’ll agree with that and raise the ante. The victim in both of these cases was obviously lying.

    How about every time a convicted rapist is released after the DNA proves he didn’t do it we lock up the alleged victim to serve the rest of his sentence? Then throw in the part of his sentence he already served on top of that.

  20. Lord help us if Johnny Cochran ever becomes a prosecutor. DNA evidence will have no bearing on innocence.

  21. “Lord help us if Johnny Cochran ever becomes a prosecutor. DNA evidence will have no bearing on innocence.”

    Cochran was good, but I don’t think he is coming back from the dead. Now, the OJ jury… well that is a group that could do some seious damage to DNA evidence.

  22. I’m keen on that “Do Something,” and “Imprison Somebody,” ideas — they’re simply a fantastic way of meting out justice.

    Maybe if we “Nuke Something,” terrorism will drop off.

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