Criminal Justice

This Week in Innocence

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Stories pulled  from the Innocence blog the last few weeks:

  • Another exoneration in Dallas (see my interview with Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins here).
  • DNA testing finally exonerates a Texas man for a rape he always said he didn't commit. Unfortunately, Tim Cole died in a Texas prison nine years ago. Another man confessed to the rape in 1995, but authorities ignored him. It's likely that Cole's wrongful conviction came with a death sentence. A lifelong asthmatic, he'd been able to treat the condition by the time he got to college. Not so in prison. He died of an asthmatic attack in 1999.
  • Meanwhile in Tennessee, a stubborn prosecutor may finally back down after years of pursuing the wrong man for a 1985 murder, despite the fact that DNA evidence has cleared the man of the rape the same prosecutor said was the motive for the murder. The U.S. Supreme Court has actually heard this case, tossing the conviction on the grounds that no reasonable juror could have convicted the man given the new evidence. Money quote: "Why, after all this evidence has poured in that House is innocent of the crime, does the state continue to so zealously defend the situation? The reason is because state prosecutors typically never admit error." That's from the federal district court judge in Nashville. Paul House spent 23 years in prison, most of them on death row.
  • DNA testing exposes another wrongful murder conviction, this one in New Mexico. It's also another example in how police can extract false confessions, particularly from the mentally disabled.
  • Reuters looks at how lax evidence preservation laws are hampering efforts to look for other wrongful convictions.
  • Alabama Gov. Bob Riley (unconvincingly) explains why he's opposed to post-conviction DNA testing in capital cases.
  • South Carolina is one of just a few states that don't give post-conviction inmates a path to DNA testing in cases where it could prove their innocence. The state legislature passed a bill to correct the problem, and Gov. Mark Sanford was set to sign it. Unfortunately, the legislature then tacked on an 11th-hour poison pill amendment allowing police to take DNA samples from everyone arrested for a serious crime (not just those convicted) for inclusion in a statewide database. To his credit, Sanford had already vetoed a similar bill, and was forced to veto this one. Unfortunately, that means South Carolina still doesn't allow for DNA testing to determine innocence, either.

NEXT: Rescue Me

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  1. “If you look at every one of the cases, at least that have come before me, that have requested a DNA exam, it would not – could not – have changed the ultimate outcome,” Riley said. “There was a preponderance of evidence, physical evidence and confessions, that led to that decision, and a DNA test could not have possibly changed it.”

    Alabama should pride itself on having assholes of the very finest caliber.

  2. To be clear: assholes that are so tight that their possessors have no choice but to shit out their mouths.

  3. I’m so glad we have a Radley Balko around to keep up the drum beat on this. But it does make me want to crawl up into a nice bottle of rot-gut whiskey and not come out.

  4. In my mind anyone convicted for owning drugs are innocent also.Yes,I consider it their property the same as my Sam Adams stout.

  5. The only thing that stops me from going crazy is that in the grand scheme of things, I would say that we have less injustice now than in most of the history of the world. The fact that we still have so much is a testament to just how much of an asshole humans are capable of being.

  6. “There was a preponderance of evidence, physical evidence and confessions, that led to that decision, and a DNA test could not have possibly changed it.”

    Any first year law student should know that “preponderance of the evidence” is the standard for a civil case. The Constitution requires that criminal cases be decided “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

    DNA evidence showing that the defendant was not the donor of the fluids the criminal left behind would certainly put a dent in my reasonable doubt.

  7. here’s another.

  8. sorry. i’ll try again

  9. Unfortunately, the [South Carolina] legislature then tacked on an 11th-hour poison pill amendment allowing police to take DNA samples from everyone arrested for a serious crime (not just those convicted) for inclusion in a statewide database.

    The South Carolina state legislature is one of the stupider deliberative bodies on the planet. There are some living, thinking legislators, but not many.

  10. Nice work Balko, you make even good news depressing.

  11. What’s wrong with sampling arrestees’ DNA? It’s less intrusive than the arrest itself.

  12. What’s wrong with sampling arrestees’ DNA? It’s less intrusive than the arrest itself.

    A *stool and semen sample* is less intrusive than an arrest, most times.

    That doesn’t make it the new standard for reasonable intrusion, now, does it?

  13. I wouldn’t mind giving most cops a stool sample. Right in the face!

  14. “There was a preponderance of evidence, physical evidence and confessions, that led to that decision, and a DNA test could not have possibly changed it.”

    What a fucking moron. He really shouldn’t use a term like “preponderance of evidence” unless he knows what it means, namely, “one side had more evidence than the other”. When the other side gets more evidence (such as a DNA test), the preponderance can and does change.

  15. Alabama Gov. Bob Riley (unconvincingly) explains why he’s opposed to post-conviction DNA testing in capital cases.

    This is an open question to any longterm, preferably lifelong residents of the deep south. Nothing personal intended, but WTF is wrong with your neighbors?

    Respectfully,
    J sub D

  16. But it does make me want to crawl up into a nice bottle of rot-gut whiskey and not come out.

    Try this stuff. It supremely sucks. Don’t ask how I know.

  17. Alabama Gov. Bob Riley (unconvincingly) explains why he’s opposed to post-conviction DNA testing in capital cases.

    Death penalty supporters have to purge idiots like these from their ranks. There is absolutely no logical reason, that I can think of, that would convince me that a post conviction DNA test in a capital effing case is a bad idea.

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