Friday, May 09, 2008

Convicting Innocents: Numbers

You have got to admit that the Death Penalty, questions of life and death and fairness bring out the extremes in a man. The passion never fails to surprise me, with terms: bloodlust, police state, medieval, and limited government bandied about dripping with sarcasm.

We've all been wanting to know more about exonerations, which is another way of saying wrongful conviction. Here are some numbers, and where they come from: (from comments at Doug's site, link here).

DPIC, which you suggested, has info here:

In the last 5 full years (2003-2007), twenty-four (24!!!!) people have been exonerated. Three have also been exonerated so far in 2008.

The DPIC also states that, since 1973, 129 people have been released from death row with evidence of innocence.

I'm not surprised that your (a blogger named "federalist") bloodlust is based on inaccurate information. Of course, I'm sure you'll claim that you referred to 4 "DNA exonerations" whereas the DPIC stats are for "exonerations," as though there is some great difference. Let me preemptively note that the DPIC has an additional category titled "Released From Death Row (Probable Innocence)" which does not appear to be included among the numbers I gave. So whether from DNA evidence or something else, the 24 listed exonerees had more than "probable innocence."

A follow up comment shining more light on the subject:

Here are the standards for making it on DPIC's list of "exonerations," the list that shows 24 people in the last 5 full years, as I mentioned above.

For Inclusion on DPIC's Innocence List:
Defendants must have been convicted, sentenced to death and subsequently either-
a) their conviction was overturned AND
i) they were acquitted at re-trial or
ii) all charges were dropped
b) they were given an absolute pardon by the governor based on new evidence of innocence.

I can only guess that you will pound the table about (a)(ii), claiming such cases aren't "real" exonerations or something. But I would suggest prosecutors don't dismiss charges lightly and I cannot fathom any reasonable explanation not to include such people as exonerees.

I mean, I can predict a rant against, say, the exclusionary rule, arguing that *maybe* one of these cases involved dropped charges after a state post-conviction court found key evidence should have been suppressed [do recall that federal courts cannot grant a habeas petition on fourth amendment grounds], but such an argument only reveals a desire for a police state where the authorities should be able to ransack our homes. Such constraints on our liberty would merely be the price we pay for making sure that the police catch all wrong-doers and are not deterred from finding them using any means. We must protect the children, after all.


RE: DNA - I think it behooves us to remember the Dallas prosecutor's office of 1970s and early 80s. (AKA "The reason why so much case law ends in Dretke") We know how bad they were in part because they were the only (or one of the only? I'm relying on newspapers here) offices to keep evidence from which DNA could be collected.

Dallas News carries an ap report on that round table debate on wrongful convictions in Texas.

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