The announcements have become routine: someone convicted long ago for murder exonerated on the basis of DNA evidence or some other incontrovertible proof that the conviction was fraudulently obtained. The latest I’ve heard about involves two men who were falsely convicted of murdering one of the convicted men’s three family members. And the conviction was based, in part, on one of the men, a frightened teen at the time, being bullied into confessing to the crime.
Fortunately, these two men were not sentenced to die for their “crimes.” Had that been the case, the wrong that was done might have been impossible to reverse. Fortunately, for these two men, they only had to spend twenty-two years behind bars for a crime they did not commit. Had they been sentenced to die, it’s very possible the sentence would have been carried out within twenty-two years of their convictions.
If this sort of thing were exceedingly rare, it would be a travesty. But it’s not particularly rare. According to The Innocence Project, which tracks such information, there have been 312 post-conviction DNA exonerations nationwide in the USA. And that’s solely exonerations based on DNA evidence; I imagine there have been plenty of exonerations based on other evidence coming to light, as well, though that’s admittedly speculation. It’s not just a travesty; it’s a societally-condoned travesty.
There are plenty of cases in Texas in which convictions have been overturned due to DNA evidence. But that’s not all. There are cases in which prosecutorial misconduct, coupled with just plain bad luck, played a part. I just read about one such case that was the subject of a 48 Hours Mystery program. on television.
People who commit horrible crimes should be punished for those crimes. But, because our justice system and humans, in general, are fallible, I no longer believe we should ever risk putting the wrong person to death. Lock them away, but give ourselves, and them, the opportunity to correct our mistakes. And prosecute prosecutors who fabricate evidence or hide it from defense attorneys. Our society should not be one in which our objective is to kill those who kill; our society should be one in which our objective to protect people through valid and “just” use of the justice system.
I have read so many cases in which innocent people are caught up in the justice system with no way out. Generally, these are poor people who have few resources, people who are easy targets when a prosecutor needs a “win.” That’s just wrong. Absolutely wrong.