If the state must pay the freight when prosecutors make mistakes, the Legislature has a growing financial incentive to make sure fewer innocent people are convicted who must be compensated. This is another instance where a victim misidentified the offender, in this case corroborated by a mendacious snitch. As I wrote when Mumphrey's conviction was overturned:
Police pressuring victims and informants to identify the wrong suspect is emerging as a key source of wrongful convictions in Texas. Where's the substance behind all the "victim's rights" rhetoric I keep hearing, I wonder? What good did it do for the rights of the 13-year old victim in this case when they ignored the real rapist who confessed to focus on their preferred suspect? She must feel just terrible. In the Ruben Cantu case, too, the victim was pressured to blame someone who wasn't culpable, even after he'd twice said Cantu didn't do it.After Tulia and cases like Arthur Mumphrey and Brandon Moon, Texas is gaining a reputation as the wrongful conviction capital of the nation. Indeed, DNA testing has exonerated ten wrongfully convicted people in Dallas County alone in the last five years.
The best way to keep more innocent people from being convicted is to figure out how it happened before, then restructure the rules to prevent similarly flawed evidence from producing more false convictions. Faulty witness testimony ranks at the top of the list of reasons for wrongful convictions.
I've argued before that eyewitnesses should be corroborated when they didn't previously know the defendant in a criminal case, as should jailhouse informants. Even that reform wouldn't have helped here, though, because the mendacious snitch would have been corroborated by the victim's testimony. She was just pressured into naming the wrong man.
Perhaps it would have helped if police followed best practices disallowing officers doing the investigation from participating in the lineups. Lineups work best when officers conducting the procedure don't know which person is a suspect.
In any event, this case strikes another blow against the presumed credibility in court of victims' eyewitness testimony. However emotional and compelling to a jury, at the end of the day too many get it wrong.
The 80th Texas Legislature, which convenes in January, will have the chance to enact key reforms like corroboration for snitches, videotaping interrogations and requiring best-practices for police lineups. We'll have a new chairman of the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee - we won't know who until after the new year - who will have another opportunity to fix some of the glaring problems that seem to cause the Texas justice system to so frequently convict the innocent. Here's hoping legislators act to fix the problems and improve public safety.