Wednesday, December 14, 2005

dna evidence exonerates two falsely convicted men in virginia

Friends, the fact that some innocent people are executed in the US from time to time should be reason enough to abolish the death penalty. Supposing its only one or two every twenty years, still.....

RICHMOND, Dec. 14 -- Newly tested DNA evidence from rapes committed perhaps more than 20 years ago have exonerated two Virginians who had served several years behind bars, according to a statement by Gov. Mark R. Warner that is scheduled to be released later today.

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 assault was in Norfolk.

The revelations are the result of modern-day testing Warner ordered more than a year ago of biological samples that had been collected in thousands of violent criminal cases dating back to the 1970s and 1980s. Those samples were collected before leaps in the forensic science.

....

The results from Virginia are sure to add fuel to the national debate about the use of DNA technology, the reliability of evidence in criminal cases and the presence of innocent people waiting to die on death rows across the country.

Read the whole thing here.

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

Here, here (or, hear hear...whatever)!! Down with death, up with life. No regime has the right to demand one's life, especially if there is a chance they could be worng about the evidence. No death penalty, no war, that's what I say!! Bad evidence is bad evidence.

BFC

Johnny Awesomo said...

WB,
Stop this insane war against the death penalty!!! You are only making yourself look bad.

Merry Christmas,
JA

Adam said...

I'm with you 100%, Father. The Culture of Death must be abolished.

Seppuku Kid said...

So what's the problem, WB? The DNA evidence let them off, and they weren't executed. The system works!
War the system,
SK

fantley. said...

Liberals--like WB--probably snuck in the labs and changed the DNA samples.

Seppuku Kid said...

Fantley.,
How do you type that whipping sound that you made when JA asked you why you thought WB was so anti-death penalty? You know, the one that means that he's "whipped" by MM? I though maybe "WHH-PSSSSH" or "Ke-CCCHH" but neither looks right in type.
Thanks for your help,
SK

MM said...

"WHH-PSSSSH" or "Ke-CCCHH! Youre SO good Fr. Im so glad you've raised me so well...

fantley. said...

No SK,

I was not referring to their relationship. I was talking about we should treat suspects in the War on Terror.

Fantley.

Johnny Awesomo said...

What if they had just whipped Tookie really bad and then let him go?
Would you be for that, WB?

Anonymous said...

What is ironic here is that we are often told that it's the capital punishment cases in which the greatest care is taken due to the severity (and irreversibility) of the punishment.

And yet... look how many on death row have been let go because subsequent information -- discovered long after this "greatest care" was exercised all the way through to its wrongful conclusion.

If this is what we get when the "greatest care" is taken, what about all the *other* convictions where there wasn't a need to take such great care?

I would be willing to bet that if one could do some independent testing of the criminal justice system, one would find that it is an exceedingly poor discriminator between guilt and innocence.

Seppuku Kid said...

Anonymous,
What's your idea for a better way of deciding whom we get to throw into prison? If people don't want to go to jail, then they shouldn't be so suspicious (read "poor, minority"); then they'd never get indicted in the first place.
Cheers,
SK

Anonymous said...

Seppu, I hope you don't drive the way you want the criminal justice system works -- set the car in the direction you want to go, lash down the wheel, a press on the accelerator and you're off...

...the road.

The overall structure of the criminal justice system is not bad, but it is not sufficient because it runs open-loop, that is, without feedback. (Well, only a little but we'll get to that.)

There are two ways to correct the system on the fly. One is to put "test cases" through and evaluate the results. I'll grant that this one will be tough to set up (it'll require someone with much more knowledge than I of the inner workings of trials), and it will not be cheap. But testing laboratories are routinely subjected to this kind of testing, just to ensure their processes are working properly. (And interesting addition to this would be to submit "identical" cases to multiple venues and compare the results.)

Did you get the wrong result? Did you get different results in different venues? Now you've got material for figuring out why the system isn't working very well.

Another corrective mechanism is to take cases of subsequently-known failure and analyze them for systemic error that led to the result. Why did the absence of DNA evidence lead to the wrong result?

Another element of this is the introduction of new evidence. My understanding is that it is very difficult to introduce new evidence after conviction, and that really only special cases (such as DNA evidence) are allowed to. I can understand the courts' reasoning for this -- redoing trials every time something new is found could be expensive. However, a general prohibition does not serve the cause of justice very well, though it does serve the courts quite well.

One could envision a special court that heard "new evidence" cases and decided whether referral for re-trial was merited. "Courts of Appeal," you say? Think again. They rule primarily on the trial itself, whether procedures were followed, etc., but rarely on new evidence.

Seppuku Kid said...

Anonymous,
I never set forth my opinion about how the criminal justice system works. I merely asked what method you would prefer. The rest was satire in case you missed it.
At any rate, the problem with the system is its strength. We let twelve ordinary idiots off the street weigh in on whether they think someone committed a crime or not, and then act according to their opinion. I call this a strength because it's better than letting some judicial elite decide everything.
Of course innocent people are going to go to jail. Some will probably get executed, too. That's the price of living in a country that protects its citizens from criminals--some innocent people get punished for crimes they didn't commit. I think it's worth the trade off. To anticipate your response: Yes it would still be worth it if I were the one arrested/executed. I would've ended up dead anyway without state protection. In that case, the cost-benefit analysis would be a wash.
Finally, how do you run a "test case" on the judiciary? Have one person commit a crime and someone else tried for it? That sounds a little weird to me. I don't want my car stereo stolen in some "test case" operation.
Cheers,
SK

father wb said...

My point, SK, is that our country could protect its citizens just as well without killing anyone. Just give life without parole every time you would otherwise have given the death sentence. That way, citizens get protected from criminals, AND you are guaranteed never to kill innocent people... and its cheaper for the tax payer. And the state could then do something compelling with its lifers, like let them dig septic tanks or prune the medians of highways. Everyone wins.

Fantley. said...

Anonymous,

The problem with the judicial system is that we have jurors. Lawyers attempt to pick the least educated people to ensure their idiotic arguments are more persuadable. People are much more into Nick and Jessica than any true sense of justice. Good luck changing that part of humanity, the communists couldn't.

Why not accept the fact that every human institution is not perfect? But, we still have to keep the streets safe.

Fantley.

Seppuku Kid said...

WB,
If people want to have rapists and murderers pruning hedges and what-not, fine. If they want to kill them, that's fine, too. It seems that currently more people want to kill them than to hire them as landscapers. I don't care either way, but attacking the current system because some people are wrongly convicted makes as little sense as attacking McDonalds because I used to spit in the milkshake machine when I worked there.
Cheers,
SK

father wb said...

SK, for a Wagnerian elitist ("twelve ordinary idiots"), you have a remarkable confidence in the machinations of American democracy ("If people want..."). Presumably there are SOME limits on the normativity of the whims of idiots. I wonder what?

Seppuku Kid said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Seppuku Kid said...

WB,
You will note that I specifically called allowing "twelve ordinary idiots" a "strength" of our system, in that it avoids establishing an elite judiciary that makes decisions about guilt or innocence. Such a system would have serious weaknesses (cf. the opening chapters of Le Comte de Monte Cristo) which make it much less desirable than our current system.
Realistically, there is no check on the normativity of the whims of idiots, at least not in the long run. That's the price one pays for living in a democracy, even one in the form of a republic. I would merely aver that in any form of nation, when one puts himself at war with the state by violating its social contract, he has no basis under said contract to demand the right to live.
Cheers,
SK

Continuing Home said...

SK,

I guess we're not as far apart as I'd thought. Mea culpa. Where I have a major disagreement with the way things are done today is the teaching in schools that our system is perfect/ideal/whatever. I know *I* encountered that, and I suspect most have (based on available evidence).

I probably do not have in my voluminous files (if I do I'd be hard-pressed to find it) a copy of a letter from a juror in a case, long ago, that said she would *never* have voted for conviction had she known some piece of evidence the judge excluded from the trial. And this preceded some really significant evidence that surfaced years later.

But the concept of "The Immaculate Conviction" simply has to go. I've no doubt that quite the majority of those convicted are guilty, but I'm sure that a good number of innocents end up in the system.

In any case, how do you run test case? It's not an easy situation, but I believe there are ways that it can be done. And don't forget, even if that turns out to be impossible, there still are the, um, "post-mortem" analyis of cases subsequently determined to be worngful convictions that we ought to be using to improve the system.

Or maybe it's an acceptable cost of doing government business that X percentage of our civilians/subjects end up wrongfully in prison. Hey, let's codify and embody the number in law.

If Sk is ready to do her part to support the system, at any time in the future... I have no problem with that.

Continuing Home said...

attacking McDonalds because I used to spit in the milkshake machine when I worked there.

Seppuku Kid said...

CH,
You did that, too? Wow! We're practically blood-brothers...er...milkshake-brothers.
Cheers,
SK

Continuing Home said...

SK, guess I forgot the quotemarks. I never worked at McDonald's... ;-)