Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

“Every great advance in natural knowledge has involved the absolute rejection of authority.”     Thomas Huxley

December 10, 2008

25 More Reasons for Criminal Justice Reform

by Stephen Littau

20 months ago I wrote a post (click here) to recognize the successful efforts of The Innocence Project in exonerating 200 wrongly convicted (14 of which were on death row). In the time between that post and this one, the Innocence Project has helped 25 more wrongfully convicted regain their freedom! If this trend continues, we could see 275+ wrongfully convicted set free by the organization’s 20th anniversary in 2012. While this is all very good news for these individuals and their families, much more needs to be done to prevent others from being victimized by the state.

Many states offer nothing with regard to compensation for the wrongfully convicted. Of those which do, the IRS insists on collecting taxes from this compensation (a complete moral outrage). The Innocence Project is working to correct this injustice.

25 states do not have laws which require forensic evidence to be preserved post conviction. For those who wish to appeal and challenge their convictions, the chances of proving their innocence are much dimmer. One of the main reasons these states refuse to preserve biological evidence is the costs associated with storage.*

There are many other reforms which need to be made with regard to the use of informants (who have an incentive to tell the authorities what they want to hear to shorten their sentences), government fraud and misconduct, and unsound science (among other needed reforms).

I would also submit that it is time to revisit the issue of the death penalty. We now have 225** reasons to demand a national moratorium on the death penalty; 225 cases where the system failed, convicted the wrong person, and allowed the real perpetrators walk free. Even one innocent person killed by the state is too many.

In closing, the following is statistical data about the 225 exonerations In the Innocence Project’s winter 2008 Newsletter: The Innocence Project in Print.

Innocence by the Numbers: Eyewitness Misidentification

Percentage of wrongful convictions cases later overturned through DNA testing that involved eyewitness misidentifications 76%

Percentage of those misidentifications that were cross-racial 51%

Percentage of those cross-racial misidentification cases where a Caucasian witness’ misidentification led to the wrongful conviction of an African-American or Latino defendant 90%

Percentage where an African-American or Latino witness’ misidentification led to the wrongful conviction of a Caucasian defendant 1%

Percentage of all the misidentification cases where eyewitness testimony was the central evidence used against the defendant (without other contributing evidence like false confessions, invalid or improper forensic science, or snitch testimony) 20%

Percentage where more than one eyewitness misidentified the same innocent defendant 37%

Highest number of eyewitnesses misidentifying the same innocent defendant 10

States where eyewitness misidentifications have contributed to a wrongful conviction 32

States that have passed reforms to improve eyewitness identification procedures 7

States Legislatures considering eyewitness identification reforms for 2009 12 and the District of Columbia

*If these states are so concerned with costs, why are they not concerned with building the “storage space” for inmates?

**If one organization can prove that 225 individuals were wrongly convicted, there most certainly has to be many times more who remain in prison who will never will have their names cleared and will continue to serve time for crimes they did not commit.

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1 Comment

  1. Thanks for your posting. As the father of a wrongly convicted son, I’ve seen firsthand the failures of our criminal justice system. Like you, I suspect that the 225 so far exonerated represent the tip of the iceberg.

    Comment by William Newmiller — December 11, 2008 @ 10:20 am

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