Crime

How Many More Are Innocent?

America's 250th DNA exoneration raises questions about how often we send the wrong person to prison.

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Freddie Peacock of Rochester, New York, was convicted of rape in 1976. Last week he became the 250th person to be exonerated by DNA testing since 1989. According to a new report by the Innocence Project, those 250 prisoners served 3,160 years between them; 17 spent time on death row. Remarkably, 67 percent of them were convicted after 2000—a decade after the onset of modern DNA testing. The glaring question here is, How many more are there?

Calculating the percentage of innocents now in prison is a tricky and controversial process. The numerator itself is difficult enough to figure out. The certainty of DNA testing means we can be positive the 250 cases listed in the Innocence Project report didn't commit the crimes for which they were convicted, and that number also continues to rise. But there are hundreds of other cases in which convictions have been overturned due to a lack of evidence, recantation of eyewitness testimony, or police or prosecutorial misconduct, but for which there was no DNA evidence to establish definitive guilt or innocence. Those were wrongful convictions in that there wasn't sufficient evidence to establish reasonable doubt, but we can't be sure all the accused were factually innocent.

Most prosecutors fight requests for post-conviction DNA testing. That means the discovery of wrongful convictions is limited by the time and resources available to the Innocence Project and similar legal aid organizations to fight for a test in court. It's notable that in one of the few jurisdictions where the district attorney is actively seeking out wrongful convictions—Dallas County, Texas—the county by itself has seen more exonerations than all but a handful of individual states. If prosecutors in other jurisdictions were to follow Dallas D.A. Craig Watkins' lead, that 250 figure would be significantly higher.

If the numerator is tough to figure, the denominator is even more controversial. One of the more farcical attempts at writing off the growing number of DNA exonerations came in a concurring opinion that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in the 2005 case Kansas v. Marsh. Scalia began by dismissing the idea that an innocent person may have been executed in America, explaining that if such a tragedy had occurred, "we would not have to hunt for it; the innocent's name would be shouted from the rooftops by the abolition lobby."

Scalia has probably since become acquainted with the name Cameron Todd Willingham, the Texas man executed in 2004 who was likely innocent. But the justice's pique also betrays an unfamiliarity with how death penalty opposition organizations work. While Scalia is right that proof of an executed innocent would be good rhetorical fodder for death penalty abolitionists, legal aid groups aren't about to waste their limited resources hunting down mistaken executions when there are living, breathing innocents still to be discovered. Moreover, in many jurisdictions, prosecutors destroy the case files after an execution, making any post-execution investigation rather difficult. That we don't know for certain about more executed innocents doesn't mean they haven't happened.

Scalia then cited some absurd math from Josh Marquis, an Oregon prosecutor who has held various executive positions for the National District Attorneys Association. According to the Marquis formula Scalia endorsed, at the time there had been about 200 DNA exonerations. For posterity, Marquis then arbitrarily multiplied that number by 10, to come up with 2,000 wrongful convictions. Marquis then took every single felony conviction over the previous 15 years as his denominator, to come up with a meager .027 wrongful conviction rate. Move along, America. Nothing to see here. Your criminal justice system's performing just fine.

The figure is absurd. First, the subset of cases for which DNA testing can prove guilt is exceedingly small. It's generally limited to most rape and some murder cases. You can throw out the entire body of drug charges and nearly all burglary, robbery, assault, and other classes of felonies. As University of Michigan Law Professor Samuel L. Gross wrote of Marquis in a 2008 article (PDF) in the Annual Review of Law and Science, "By this logic, we could estimate the proportion of baseball players who've used steroids by dividing the number of major league players who've been caught by the total of all baseball players at all levels: major league, minor league, semipro, college and Little League—and maybe throwing in football and basketball players as well."

If the aim is to calculate the percentage of people who claim they're innocent and who actually are, you might throw out all cases decided by a guilty plea, too. But this can also get tricky. According to the Innocence Project, more than a quarter of DNA exonerations included a false confession or guilty plea. The plea bargaining process can also induce innocent people to plead guilty to lesser crimes to avoid charges with more serious prison time, particularly in drug cases.

The Innocence Project cites a study by Seton Hall's D. Michael Risinger that puts the percentage of innocents in prison at 3 to 5 percent. But that study looked only at capital crimes, and there's yet more debate over whether data gleaned from those accused of crimes that are eligible for the death penalty would translate into higher or lower wrongful conviction rates for those accused of lesser crimes. (Those who argue that it would be higher note that there's more pressure on prosecutors and jurors to hold someone accountable in murder cases. On the other hand, defendants tend to have better representation in capital cases.) But even dropping below the study's floor, using the 2008 prison population, a 2 percent wrongful conviction rate would mean about 46,000 people incarcerated for crimes they didn't commit.

Whatever the percentage, DNA testing has exposed some gaping flaws in the system, calling into question traditional assumptions on the value of eyewitness testimony, forensic evidence, confessions, and the appeals process. (In several cases in which a defendant was later exonerated by DNA testing, appeals courts not only upheld convictions, but noted the "overwhelming evidence" of the defendants' guilt.) Scalia stated in Marsh that an exoneration "demonstrates not the failure of the system but its success," but it would be naive to believe the same systemic flaws exposed by these exonerations in the small subset of cases for which DNA testing is available don't also exist in the much larger pool of non-DNA cases. Put another way, if we now know because of DNA testing that misconduct by police and prosecutors produced a wrongful conviction in a high-profile murder case, it's probably safe to assume that the same problems led to the wrongful conviction of a number of routine drug suspects over the years, too. The difference is that there's no test to clear those people's names.

So these 250 DNA exonerations aren't proof that the system is working. They're a wake-up call that it isn't. Instead of falling back on groups like the Innocence Project to serve as unofficial checks against wrongful convictions, lawmakers, judges, and law enforcement officials should be looking at why there's so much work for these organizations in the first place.

Radley Balko is a senior editor at Reason magazine.

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  1. Just guessing here, but I bet the total percentage of innocents-in-prison (for all classes of crime) is more likely around 10%.

    1. All gays are innocent!?

      1. only the ones in pritty pink dresses

  2. A “the-thin-blue-line” and “wrongful-convictions” combination blow for the KO!

    Radley in the first round!

    1. Great share thanks for the read i really enjoyed

  3. Of course, the thing that always puzzles me most about this issue is how the “law and order” types aren’t pissed about the failure to put the right people away…

    Are they Soft On Crime ™ or something?

    1. It’s not about the right people. It’s about statistics to show you’re doing something.

  4. Threadjack,

    The que to get into hell just got shorter. John Murtha is dead.

    http://gatewaypundit.firstthin…..ead-at-77/

    I am only sad the old crook didn’t die in prison like he deserved.

    1. I wonder if his doctor was a marine…

      1. They say the nicked his intestine during gall bladder surgery and it got infected. He died a horrible death apparently. So maybe his doctor was a Marine.

        1. Murtha “was” a Marine, his doctor either is or never was.

          Either way a horrible death as the closing act in a life in which the one living it was responsible for making an increasing number of horrible decisions, of which more than a few had the potential to cause horrible wrong to be done to others, could be considered a poetic justice.

    2. I have no doubt his fevered mind was prison enough.

  5. Number One, the revolution is near.
    Number Two, Murtha’s death is but one of 535 well deserved deaths.
    Number Three, as for the criminal justice system … refer to Number One.

    1. I bet the total percentage of innocents-in-prison (for all classes of crime) is more likely around 2%.

      And there are a lot of people who were guilty, but were either found not guilty or were not charged to get that low of a percentage.
      Mind you, I like our system the best of any out there, but it lets many times more guilty go free than innocents who get convicted.

      1. Got any proof of that?

        1. Libertymike,

          Got any proof that it’s not true?

          1. You made the claim, it’s your job to back it up.

            1. It was just opinion, which is why I said “is more likely around “.

              1. I think most of us agree that you should keep your opinion to yourself until you think through this issue some more.

                1. Trevor,
                  I think you should go fuck yourself.

                  1. Jimmy, I know that you need a civility augmentation.

          2. I DO THE TOTAL OF INNOCENCE THAT ARE ACCUSED SO FAR AND THAT HAVE BEEN EXONERATED ARE ABOUT 23% OF WRONGFUL CONVICTIONS ARE FROM FALSE ARREST AND CONVICTIONS OF EYEWITNESSES N BASED ON 175 CASES OF THE FIRST 239 DNA EXONERATION CASES 62% WERE MISLEADED BECAUSE OF THAT CAUSE….ABOUT 77% OF WRONGFUL CONVICTIONS ARE FROM DISHONEST WITNESSES… AROUND 53% ARE FROM FALSE EVIDENCE OR INVALID FORESNIC SCIENCE…ABOUT 16% ARE FROM INFORMANTS AND SNITCHES… AND OUT OF THE FIRST 225 DNA EXONERATIONS AND 376 CASES OVER 100% HAVE BEEN WRONGFULLY CONVICTED BECAUSE SOME OF THOSE MIGHT HAVE BEEN CHARGED AND ACCOUNTED FOR MORE THAN ONE CRIME… there goes your statistics brought to you by the INNOCENCE PROJECT http://www.innocenceproject.com SO JIMMY CRACK CORN YOU ARE INCORRECT!

            1. And out of those statistics from the INNOCENCE PROJECT AS OF APRIL OF 2009 THERE HAVE BEEN NEARLY 140(59.8%) AFRICAN AMERICANS, 64(27.4%) CAUCASIANS, 21(8.5%) LATINOS, 1(0.4%) ASIAN AMERICA, AND 9(3.8%) UNKNOWNS THAT WERE EXONERATED WITH THE USE OF THE DNA EXONERATION SINCE 1989.

        2. Libertymike, you want proof that more guilty go free? Easy. That’s how our legal system is specifically designed. You don’t even need a law degree to know that. While I was no fan of Murtha’s, his cause of death should be of more concern to law-abiding folks than the possibility of being falsely convicted. Check the various studies on deaths by medical mistakes. (Hearst newspapers had a good one last year, and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 99,000 patients die a year from hospital-acquired infections.)

      2. well everybody who is in jail for possession of a plant if innocent. So that puts it above 2 percent right there.

    2. Thanks this post really got me thinking about a few things

  6. How many innocent in prision?

    They’re all innocent – just ask them.

    1. Read ScottPetersonAppeal.Org .

      Make sure you maintain your skepticism when reading that site.

      1. Did you know that Scott Petersen is the name of a sausage company?

        1. Well, I do know that Scott Petersen is the name of my sausage.

  7. How many innocent in prison?

    Only some of the newly-arrived.

    1. Thanks this site has been the best place for this type of information

  8. I am the only guilty man in Shawshank.

  9. I wonder how many innocents are in prison not because the police or prosecutors fabricated evidence, or the judge wrongfully excluded exculpatory evidence, but because even though the evidence did not prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the jury convicted anyway.

    1. Our they took a plea rather than risk proving their innocence.

    2. As someone whose only experience with the criminal justice system was serving on a jury during a murder trial, I came away from the episode amazed that anyone, anywhere is ever found guilty of anything. Many facts were withheld from us, the prosecutor was amateurish, some of the witnesses were obvious liars and some of the members of the jury were convinced that anything and everything testified to by the police had to be lies. I find it difficult to reconcile my experience with what was stated in the article and by many of the comments here.

      1. Thanks for the read, i submitted your site to digg and a few other places!

  10. Typo in blog blurb, says Rochster, not Rochester. In this part of the state, we actually pronounce the entire word.

  11. A little help here for the slow witted in fly-over country. How does DNA “prove innocence”, other than possibly rape cases? Certainly there might not be evidence to convict (and without it they should not) but that isn’t the same as being innocent, at least with common usage of the word.

    Perhaps it is all of the weed and alcohol but I can’t come up with a single hypothetical murder where DNA would prove the innocence of a person.

    1. +1

    2. Really? Your imagination must be pretty weak. You can’t imagine, say, blood taken from the body of a person killed during a fight, blood which matches neither the victim nor the convicted but which does match DNA found on the murder weapon?

    3. Example:

      A murder victim might inflict defensive wounds, such as scratches that leave the murderer’s flesh in the victim’s nails or blood splatter from a gun shot in self-defense. Showing that this DNA does not match that of the person convicted of the murder (or the victim, or anybody else that could reasonably explain the presence of the evidence) can put reasonable doubt into the mind of a jury member.

      1. I agree that DNA might provide “reasonable doubt”. That does not equate to innocence. I am completely in favor of releasing all who have not met the standard of “beyond reasonable doubt”, too.

        Blood evidence might prove guilt, but I still don’t see it proving innocence. Just because there is blood under fingernails, or on a murder weapon, isn’t proof that it happened at the time of the murder. Don’t you also have to place the person at the scene? I am assuming that these people were not convicted based upon DNA, since it exonerated them. I fail to see how not finding their DNA at the crime scene is proof of innocence.

        If a case is overturned because DNA discovered is not of the convicted person, all that proves is that his DNA wasn’t collected at the murder site. It doesn’t prove he didn’t commit the crime.

        1. You can’t prove a negative. I think we all learned that in single digit grades, didn’t we? What’s your fucking point?

          1. But that seems to be the gist of the article, DNA proves a negative. Overturns a conviction, sure, and appropriate. Proves innocence? Not quite.

            1. …but you don’t have to prove innocence. You have to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Big difference.

              1. I agree completely. These people should be released because they have not been proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. But the article mentions “innocence”.

                Should OJ have gone to jail for the murder of Ron an Nicole? No, because a jury found him “not guilty”. Was he innocent?

            2. It doesn’t have to prove innocence. It is guilt that has to be proven (special thanks to Coffin v. United States) over presumed innocence. So as long as DNA evidence sufficiently subverts the prosecutions’ case it will have “proven innocence”. Prosecutions seldom prove guilt. They just demonstrate likelihood with reasonable doubt as the threshold.

              A woman is found bludgeoned in her home. Her black gardener (random racism) has scratches on his face that he swears are from his cat. The victim has human skin under her nails. Let’s say an eye witness picked him out of a lineup. Case closed, right? The gardener does 10 years and then Radley Balko starts typing. DNA testing shows that the skin under her nails was caucasian (unracist twist!) and he is finally exonerated. And I see your point, that it doesn’t unequivocally prove that he is innocent. Of course by that standard you are also as guilty of her murder. But it does prove that prior to him murdering her with a single eye witness as the only evidence, she scratched some white dude. AND, get this! DNA matches the eye witness. Her husband who wore a turtle neck to the station to finger the gardener all those years ago!

            3. It doesn’t have to prove innocence. It is guilt that has to be proven (special thanks to Coffin v. United States) over presumed innocence. So as long as DNA evidence sufficiently subverts the prosecutions’ case it will have “proven innocence”. Prosecutions seldom prove guilt. They just demonstrate likelihood with reasonable doubt as the threshold.

              A woman is found bludgeoned in her home. Her black gardener (random racism) has scratches on his face that he swears are from his cat. The victim has human skin under her nails. Let’s say an eye witness picked him out of a lineup. Case closed, right? The gardener does 10 years and then Radley Balko starts typing. DNA testing shows that the skin under her nails was caucasian (unracist twist!) and he is finally exonerated. And I see your point, that it doesn’t unequivocally prove that he is innocent. Of course by that standard you are also as guilty of her murder. But it does prove that prior to him murdering her with a single eye witness as the only evidence, she scratched some white dude. AND, get this! DNA matches the eye witness. Her husband who wore a turtle neck to the station to finger the gardener all those years ago!

              1. Oh dear…now I’ve done it!

              2. And I see your point, that it doesn’t unequivocally prove that he is innocent. Of course by that standard you are also as guilty of her murder.

                Basically, yes. It doesn’t prove innocence. By this standard, I am not guilty, but still not “proven innocent”, just like these exonerations.

                The proven negative just rubs wrong. Only a minor nit picking with an article with which I generally agree.

                1. It would depend on the circumstances and what the case against the defendant was, but I can think of many situations in which the DNA evidence could refute all reason there ever was to believe that the defendant committed the crime. It is difficult for me to think of a good, model example for this kind of use of DNA evidence, but if the case against the defendant depends on the jury reaching certain conclusions about what all of the other evidence demonstrates, then DNA evidence might work either by proving a fact that renders the rest of the evidence (or whatever it was supposed to demonstrate) meaningless, inconclusive, or unreliable or else by contradicting or negating a key piece of evidence in that case against the defendant.

                  I can imagine other kinds of cases in which the DNA evidence might prove that someone other than the defendant committed the crime, which, depending on the other evidence, might affirmatively prove that the defendant did not commit the crime — certain cases involving rape, for example.

          2. Thanks for the nice post! this site is amazing

  12. I dunno, they all look guilty to me. Whoa – back to jury duty….

    1. I had an idealistic, liberal, Harvard Law School educated buddy who took a job as a Public Defender.

      After a year as a PD we had finished a softball tournament and over a beer I asked him I asked him if it ever bothered him when a guy he knew was innocent got convicted.

      He gave me a wry look and said, “You don’t know the guys I deal with. I figure that even if they didn’t do it, they did something worse they weren’t caught for.”

      He kept up that PD work for another 2 years before he couldn’t take working with those guys anymore.

  13. This is unworthy of a liberal society. How many innocent is too many? 1,000? 10,000? A million? What happened to the maxim that it is better to let 100 guilty men go to save an innocent than to sacrifice one innocent to punish 100 guilty? This can’t even jive with primitive theories such as those promoted by Rawls.

    1. What happened to the maxim that it is better to let 100 guilty men go to save an innocent than to sacrifice one innocent to punish 100 guilty?

      Decades of fear-mongering and ignorance.
      Besides, what has guilt got to do with anything. This is ‘merica baby, where we turn children into sex-offenders for photographing themselves naked, all so some sleazy prosecutor with political ambitions can get his conviction rate up.
      Great, now i’ve depressed myself!

  14. it is totally gross, that when a person convicted of a crime and being innocent, the loss of time, not to mention financially how they come up with a figure that does not even come near as to what the person has to endure, aside the family? worst off is when the prosecution has covered up as committed perjury just to get a conviction, and they are exempt from lawsuit, this needs change; what happens when the very system finally gets the facts as evidence along with DNA and the convicted is executed??? what then OPPS?? justice is being sold these days, buy as sell, lets make a deal, across America it happens, as other countries, we are no deference

    1. worst off is when the prosecution has covered up as committed perjury just to get a conviction, and they are exempt from lawsuit

      They are not exempt from a bullet or a sharp blade or a bomb…

  15. The problem with even believing this is a scandal is that you have to be seriously misguided in your estimation of the efficacy of policies and practices to believe any judicial system would eliminate wrongful conviction.

    Frankly I think as our methods of conviction become more reliable, we should be pushing harder for the return of capital punishment. There are many, many cases in which guilt is not only proven beyond any possible doubt, it is admitted. What possible benefit to society is earned by keeping serial rapists and murderers alive?

    1. Did you miss the part where 25% of the cases also included a false confession or guilty plea?

      Anyway, it’s not about expecting an elimination of wrongful convictions. It is about making an honest attempt to correct flaws in the system that we know result in the wrongful incarceration of a statistically significant number of citizens.

      I can only hope that you are falsely accused while the current streamlined system is in place.

    2. The answer to that question will become obvious to you should you ever find yourself wrongfully convicted of a heinous crime. For everybody else, the non-aggression principle should be enough.

    3. If someone falsely confesses to something, we should protect them from their own lunacy?

      And you entirely miss my point. This ‘argument’ is just like the whole Abu Ghraib debacle. Both were uncovered by our media and justice system, and both saw honest attempts to correct flaws in the system. So you’re essentially saying that what is happening needs to happen. What a great bit of policy.

      And I do so love how you calm, compassionate, humanitarian types jump right to the “I hope you come to grievous bodily harm” when you are unable to continue arguing your illogical position. So let me return the favor: I hope you, or someone you love, is raped, beaten, or murdered by a recidivist criminal. Do you know the level of recidivism amongst violent criminals? Compared to the rate of ‘innocent incarceration’, the latter is a statistical error.

      Your bleeding heart act is revealed as a charade by your vindictive nature, but it’s also quite obviously stupid. You have a far, far greater statistical chance of being a victim of a recidivist criminal than being wrongly convicted of a crime. Certainly we can look at both problems.

      1. AC – it seems the idea that an innocent may be punished for the crimes inflicted on those you love fills you with anticipatory satisfaction. I guess for some primitive minds the ‘someone has to pay for this – anyone, really’ mentality is still functional. The rest of us have moved on to the point where we do not think that the suffering of one innocent can be compensated for by the suffering of another.
        I’m far from a bleeding heart – if anybody so much as put a hand at anyone in my family, he better find a safe place to hide for the rest of his life. However, I will make damn sure that the poor soul at the receiving end of my vengeance is the right individual.
        Frankly, I despise people who dismiss the suffering of their fellow man in the name of expedience. The blood of the innocent has never brought about anything but poisonous fruits, regardless whether the cause is world peace or justice. It’s about morality, not your primitive cave man sense of grievance.

  16. Which begs the question: How many innocents are convicted when the AG is running for reelection and there is some bad press pertaining to a crime wave, serial killer etc… ???

  17. Which begs the question: How many innocents are convicted when the AG is running for reelection and there is some bad press pertaining to a crime wave, serial killer etc… ???

    1. See Gov Ryan slapping a moratorium on the death penalty in Illinois years back.

  18. Prosecutors care more about getting any conviction than getting the right conviction, because high conviction rates are a springboard into politics.

  19. Something I find ironic about the death penalty is that those who oppose it on the grounds that it results in the taking of innocent life tend to support abortion rights, while those who support the death penalty tend to oppose abortion on the grounds that it results in the taking of innocent life.

    1. you know i have questioned that many times and still have yet to hear a convincing argument either way.

    2. Something I find funny about generalizations is how often they’re entirely untrue. It’s also quite odd how those who tend to resort to them in place of meaningful conversation resort to tautology, equating two completely different processes that aren’t even the slightest bit analogous.

      Let me rock your tiny world: I’m pro-choice. And I support the death penalty. I suspect that puts you right out of arguments.

      1. I hate how ignorant twits trying to be smugly superior will use a personalized bit of information to invalidate a statistically significant phenomenon.

        Republicans (one of the only 2 viable parties in America at this time) – platform = Pro-war, Pro-capital punishment, anti-abortion

        Democrats (ditto) platform = Anti-war, anti-capital punishment, pro-abortion.

        So, you can argue your personal statistic against the generalization we apparently just made up even though it lines up with the platforms of the only 2 significant political parties in this country.

        Just because you may have a big hairy mole on your penis does not make big hairy penis moles common you idiot.

  20. Radley — I found your discussion of the statistics even more naive than Scalia’s. The sample of 250 “innocents” is not drawn randomly from the pool of convicted rapists/murders. Undoubtedly, the Innocence Project and other such groups select the cases with the best chance of finding someone who is innocent — as you say, they have limited resources and will not want to waste them on obviously guilty people. Thus, we can think of the selection process as starting with the most likely innocent and proceeding down the list to less and less likely innocent. For all we know, the 250th innocent person could be the last innocent person in jail. In short, because the sample is not random, no standard statistical inferences can be made. I think that with the data you have presented, the best that can be said is that there were at least 250 people wrongfully convicted.

    1. wrong. the innocence project doesn’t choose cases based on whether they think the person is innocent. they choose cases based on whether there was biological evidence collected at the time of the crime that could prove innocence, that is, biological evidence that must have come from the perpetrator of the crime and which was never subjected to the kind of DNA testing that is available today. by that criteria they might choose cases where the person looked very very guilty, but biological evidence is available. conversely they might turn down a case where the defendant looks very innocent (they had an alibi, there were alternate suspects, allegations of police misconduct, etc…) but there was never any biological evidence collected during the investigation.

      1. Sorry, absent very convincing evidence, I don’t believe your assertion. Certainly they require biological evidence to be available. But do they really pursue a case where the prosecutor has, for instance, a video of the person committing the crime? Besides, it was Radley that claimed that legal aid groups don’t want to “waste their limited resources”. Finally, no matter what selection process is used, there is a selection process — it is not random. Probably some sophisticated analysis could be done based on how the percentage of examined cases resulting in exonerations has changed over time, but the type of analysis given here cannot be considered seriously. I don’t know what the answer would be, but this article hasn’t helped figure it out either.

        1. the example you’ve given, where a prosecutor has a video of the person committing the crime, would not be a case the innocence project would choose because in that case the biological evidence couldn’t really prove innocence. but cases based on confessions, eyewitness identifications, junk science (which is basically what a lot of forensic science besides DNA is) are all fir game. if there is biological evidence that would contain the perpetrator’s DNA and the staff deem it a case where showing that the defendant’s DNA is not in that biological evidence would prove innocence, they take the case. besides that there’s a wait list and they just go in order and take any case that meets the criteria i’ve mentioned.

  21. “you know i have questioned that many times and still have yet to hear a convincing argument either way.”

    Here you go, Yoji. People who commit death-penalty worthy crimes are taking up resources that decent people are deprived of through their continued existence. In addition, the failure to make them pay the same price exacted from their victim or victims is a stench in the nostrils of any person who believes in either the sanctity of life or even simple fairness. Take a life without sufficient justification, sacrifice your own. That’s fair.

    On the other side, unborn children have done nothing wrong at all. In this country there are thousands of people who would love to adopt them. Instead, we have depraved animals who see literally ripping them apart as perfectly acceptable. THEY’RE INNOCENT. CONVICTED MURDERERS ARE GUILTY. If it’s not fair to take a life unjustly, and the penalty for that ought to be death, then it’s not fair to kill someone who is yet unborn but would almost certainly survive if allowed to be born.

    Maybe you don’t like that reasoning, but it’s intellectually consistent and meets the criteria for a society that values life highly enough to make the unjust taking of it cost an equivalent price.

    One more thing: I’d be more than willing to practice what I preach. I’d stoically execute a convicted murderer myself in the same way I’m willing to butcher my own deer or cow. I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty doing difficult jobs that need to be done. That said, no one on this Earth has enough power to get me to perform an abortion. Shedding the blood of the guilty is, in this sad world, sometimes an unfortunate necessity. Shedding the blood of the innocent should never be–in a decent society.

    1. “THEY’RE [unborn children] INNOCENT.”

      True.

      “CONVICTED MURDERERS ARE GUILTY.”

      Except for the ones that aren’t.
      Many a prosecutor would have no problem putting an innocent person to death as long as a high conviction rate leads to careers in politics.

      It doesn’t take a lot of research to find many instances where this is true.

      Not all convicted murderers are guilty.

      1. “Not all convicted murderers are guilty.”

        How is this relevant to a discussion of capital punishment?

        If you’re arguing that only certain cases, proven beyond a higher level of doubt, should result in the death penalty – I’m on board.

        If you’re arguing that, as our methods for determining guilt progress, we should apply the death penalty more often – I’m on board.

        If you can accept that there is a ‘break’ point at which we should consider the benefit of the death penalty outweighs its (minuscule) cost – I’m on board.

        If you’re just gainsaying the argument, using the statistically insignificant number of ‘innocent convictions’ (which is further reduced if you check recidivism rates for the person who is ‘innocent’ only of the specific crime), then there’s no convincing you.

        A thought: do you know how many thousands of TRULY innocent people die every year because we have cars? Or bathtubs? Or swimming pools? Why should we not use an effective method of punishment and crime prevention simply because it has a statistically insignificant negative cost?

        1. AtheistConservative, what if a scientist proved to you beyond all reasonable doubt that a social order completely free of injustice could be brought about by slowly torturing to death your mother. Do you think that’s worth it? After all, your mother is just one statistically insignificant cost relative to the well-being of billions.
          Unless you are willing to answer this question in the affirmative, you have no leg to stand on. Would you sacrifice your mother to save the rest of humanity?

          I doubt you’ll answer this question. The fact that you cannot differentiate between accidental killing and deliberate murder is telling enough. Just another ‘consequentialist’ whose morality boils down to “good is what’s good for me”. Disgusting.

  22. Wonderful to see that you’re so giving of other people’s health, wealth, and freedom, all in the name of sparing innocents.

    1. The above was in response to the abortion derail a few posts above, not to Balko’s excellent article.

  23. “legal aid groups aren’t about to waste their limited resources hunting down mistaken executions when there are living, breathing innocents still to be discovered.”

    Or when there are unquestionably guilty murderers to be saved from execution. For instance, Frank Spisak, admitted neo-Nazi and triple murderer, has been kept alive for 26 years.

    I would be more impressed with the work of the Innocence Project and similar groups if they were not apparently more interested in preventing any and all executions than in exonerating genuine innocents.

  24. Willingham was most likely NOT innocent. His wife Stacy Kuykendall wrote an essay in the Fort Worth Star Telegram detailing his confession to her just weeks before his execution. It wasn’t just the fire marshalls report that convicted him. Read the execution report on txexections.org

  25. Dear Mr. Balko,
    You have it completely backward. There are no innocent in prison, and the number of innocent not in prison is daily approaching a vanishingly small number. See Here:

    http://www.amazon.com/Go-Direc…..amp;sr=8-2

    No, I’m not joking. There’s a lot of sarcasm in my comment above, but what congress is criminalizing, and how, is very disturbing.

  26. Marshall Gill has it right, on the main point so often missed when DNA evidence is discussed: it cannot, by definition, positively prove evidence. It’s like finding another fingerprint at a crime scene: it doesn’t mean defendant A didn’t commit said crime, it just means there’s evidence of another person being at the scene.
    A man can rape a woman and not leave any DNA; or his DNA may not have gotten collected by investigators.
    The presence of another man’s DNA on or in the woman doesn’t prove the first man didn’t do the crime. It may be evidence toward exoneration. It may undermine the prosecution’s case enough to put the guilty verdict south of reasonable doubt.
    But it does not, and cannot, positively prove innocence.
    And that’s such an obvious point, when people blur the lines about it and tout the said “proven innocence,” it makes one doubt their good faith.

  27. Convicting innocent people is very serious and I can’t even start to imagine the feeling of these persons.
    Thanks to DNA testing we can now help lots of them to get out of prison and clear their reputation!

    1. If more people thought like you Lucy there’d be far fewer people willing to commit crimes and far fewer willing to wrongfully convict other’s of crimes. You appear from what you wrote to be capable of empathy, the ability to put yourself in another’s place without actually being that person. A very tough act to pull off, almost as tough as administering justice on a mass production legal assembly line.

    2. but the point of this article, or one of the points, is that DNA testing is not going to help the large majority of wrongfully convicted people. people who are in prison for property crimes (theft, that kind of thing) will never get their convictions overturned on DNA evidence. it’s mostly just rapes and some murders.

  28. Based on how well the government does other things I would guess the accuracy rate of the courts is around 50%.

  29. What else could possibly be said? To avoid getting any piss on us, we have decided to leave you all with a quote from a former career prosecutor out of Harris County, Texas. (1970’s-2003ish) Then in closing we will leave you with a thought.

    Casey J. O’Brien AKA: “jigmeister” & “The King of Nolo Contendere” – (2009) “In my experience as a career prosecutor, there are three kinds of cases with many exceptions, that go to trial; the very serious, the very solid, and the very close. The other 95% are pled out. I have often wondered what would happen if the defense community balked and refused to bargain. The obvious answer is that everything would come to a screaming halt.”

    Consider just one of ‘his’ 95% for conversation sake. Public records have revealed that the “King” knowingly & willingly indicted two Caucasian males for a crime in which the victim originally reported as being committed by blacks with black hair. One of the suspects indicted had blonde hair; blue eyes and the other had sun streaked light brown hair. One was on probation at the time and arrested for (Outstanding Traffic Warrant) and records indicate that he had no traffic warrants. Merely on probation in a “suspicious vehicle.”

    By the way folks, the ADA, the judge, the court reporter, the bailiff, the lawyers, the Harris County Sheriff’s Deputies, the Houston Police Dept. Robbery Dets. are all Caucasian.

    Then as a cherry on top of the heap of steaming dog shit, O’Brien is shown to have brought in a .38 cal. revolver with a six inch barrel. He listed it as a State’s Exhibit, despite the police report showing that the victim described a .22 or .25 cal. black revolver with a two inch barrel.

    If you paid taxes, you paid this former Assistant D. A., the Court and two police agencies to falsely arrest and indict these ham sandwiches. You also paid for the jury to be brought in, only to be released at lunch recess. Subsequently, you paid for the housing, meals, medical, GED, college courses and for the $100. going home check. Then of course you should know that you paid the Texas Board of Pardons & Paroles to deny full pardons based on innocence. That means that you also paid for the consequences of being unemployables in an era of cheap illegal labor. The only thing you didn’t pay for was one of the accused $500. (Five hundred) dollars attorney fee.

    Those that don’t pay taxes don’t have a say in this, those that do should be ashamed.

    “There are no engraved invitations to the revolution”

    1. As far as I am concerned we all pay our taxes but even though if people don’t which i don’t understand why you DO NOT HAVE A SAY IN WHO OR WHO CAN NOT SPEAK ON THIS IF YOU HAVE NOT REALIZED WHICH YOU SHOULD HAVE THAT THE MOST KEY COMPONENT TO WRONGFUL CONVICTIONS ARE BECAUSE OF INTENTIONAL GOVERNMENT MISCONDUCT and I am sad to say this but it is true statistics prove it. So are we paying taxes to see innocent people get sentenced to DEATH or LIFE IN PRISON and see THE REAL PERPETRATORS WALK OUR STREETS, OR CITIES, OUR TOWNS, OUR STATES and CONTINUE DOING THE CRIMES FOR WHICH THEY HAVE NOT CONVICTED your ignorance is by far irrelevant to what you have stated.

  30. Actually it’s not 10% and if you were speaking on snitches and informants giving false testimonies that you are somewhat accurate it is more like over 15% for that category alone but I can throw all statistics out on here but I rather let you look at liable sources alone and http://www.innocenceproject.com I am a big fan on the death penalty but when it comes time for putting innocent people to death there is something wrong. Nearly 300 people have been exonerated so far because of DNA testing and was found innocent after the wrongful convictions. Yet, you don’t read or see all of them in the newspapers or read them on the news. I am a college student and I had chosen this as my research paper topic and I am by far appaud at all the factors brought up into the wrongful convictions of innocent people.

  31. Exonerations nationwide have identified pockets of lawlessness, down to naming individuals responsible for soliciting perjury.

    The FBI is mandated to investigate public corruption that affected trial outcomes. Their reluctance stems from their involvement; the FBI used DNA-discredited dog handlers Keith Pikett and John Preston, who participated in a total of approximately 2,500 criminal investigations.

    In Brevard County, FL there have been three upset Preston convictions, in Texas, three men are suing Pikett for his role in their wrongful incarcerations.

    In OH, the FBI used Preston against Dale Sutton; in FL, they used Preston against Linroy Bottoson. The names of the parties the FBI used Pikett against in Texas haven’t come to light, to my knowledge.

    Sutton was exonerated by the perpetrators; Bottoson was executed.

    The logical step for any innocence organization to take is to file a Petition for a Writ of Mandamus with the US Supreme Court asking the Justices to compel the FBI to adhere to their mandate.

    Short of that happening, the FBI will continue busting dogfight rings in multi-state sweeps and so over-zealously investigating trafficking in Native American artifacts that three suspects committed suicide.

  32. Exonerations nationwide have identified pockets of lawlessness, down to naming individuals responsible for soliciting perjury.

    The FBI is mandated to investigate public corruption that affected trial outcomes. Their reluctance stems from their involvement; the FBI used DNA-discredited dog handlers Keith Pikett and John Preston, who participated in a total of approximately 2,500 criminal investigations.

    In Brevard County, FL there have been three upset Preston convictions, in Texas, three men are suing Pikett for his role in their wrongful incarcerations.

    In OH, the FBI used Preston against Dale Sutton; in FL, they used Preston against Linroy Bottoson. The names of the parties the FBI used Pikett against in Texas haven’t come to light, to my knowledge.

    Sutton was exonerated by the perpetrators; Bottoson was executed.

    The logical step for any innocence organization to take is to file a Petition for a Writ of Mandamus with the US Supreme Court asking the Justices to compel the FBI to adhere to their mandate.

    Short of that happening, the FBI will continue busting dogfight rings in multi-state sweeps and so over-zealously investigating trafficking in Native American artifacts that three suspects committed suicide.

  33. My only point is that if you take the Bible straight, as I’m sure many of Reasons readers do, you will see a lot of the Old Testament stuff as absolutely insane. Even some cursory knowledge of Hebrew and doing some mathematics and logic will tell you that you really won’t get the full deal by just doing regular skill english reading for those books. In other words, there’s more to the books of the Bible than most will ever grasp. I’m not concerned that Mr. Crumb will go to hell or anything crazy like that! It’s just that he, like many types of religionists, seems to take it literally, take it straight…the Bible’s books were not written by straight laced divinity students in 3 piece suits who white wash religious beliefs as if God made them with clothes on…the Bible’s books were written by people with very different mindsets…in order to really get the Books of the Bible, you have to cultivate such a mindset, it’s literally a labyrinth, that’s no joke.

  34. This blog has some interesting info. I am really impressed with your efforts and really pleased to visit this post. Keep up the Good work going!! Thanks

  35. no one is innocent here, every body want to get the things whatever they want may be legal or may be illegal…

  36. This is a very complicated topic but i sort of agree with the already mentioned comments. I hope the new year will mean better results on this issue.

  37. Extremely complex article, but i get the point. 250 is a huge number, let’s admit it. Great share. Evelyn.

  38. i really can not imagine this desperate feeling innocent people have,government should try to fix this guilty law flaw,which relates one’s whole life.

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