Last year, 91 Texas parolees were returned to prison after being charged with a new crime, even though the charges against them were later dropped or they were acquitted in court.That's a relatively small number, but the idea that anyone goes to prison because of conduct for which a jury found them not guilty, to me, cannot be justified. It happens because juries must find guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt," while at parole revocation hearings only a "preponderance of the evidence" standard (50.1%) must be met.
Juries were America's Founding Fathers' attempt to inject an element of democracy into the criminal justice process - the idea that their decision might be trumped by the myopic bureaucrats at the parole board frankly makes my skin crawl.
In the case profiled by Lindell, a jury acquitted the fellow of murder, but his parole for a previous murder was revoked on the sole word of the investigating officer. A child victim had identified multiple people during different lineup procedures, but the investigator told the parole board the man was "guilty as homemade sin." That was 20 years ago.
The shortcomings of eyewitness testimony in this case point to the need for significant reforms to ensure fairness and accuracy. Too often, it turns out, victims and witnesses simply identify the wrong person. Wrote Lindell ("Who's the real bad guy? Eyewitness testimony makes it hard to tell," April 15):
Such flaws in eyewitness testimony, especially by kids, are one of the main reasons I oppose bills that would allow in children's hearsay testimony and give the death penalty on child molestation charges. There have simply been too many cases where such testimony turned out to be mistaken; more checks and balances are needed to ensure innocent people don't receive society's harshest punishments.
A growing body of research has improved the scientific understanding of witness testimony, shattering long-held beliefs about the reliability of first-hand observation.
The results have gained credibility as DNA testing has exonerated 198 inmates nationally, 152 of whom were wrongly convicted based on witness testimony, according to the Innocence Project, which pursues DNA exonerations.
Today, it's known that fear plays a key role in impeding the ability to form and process memories, Wells said.
"The natural tendency for all humans is fight or flight from fear. All of one's mental resources get devoted to survival, and forming a detailed memory of things around you does not help you survive," Wells said.
Though conventional wisdom would suggest being stabbed would produce an indelible memory of the attacker's face, "in fact, it's the other way around," Wells said. "Fear provides very, very unfavorable conditions for forming any kind of reliable memory."
Youth is another factor: "Kids do better if they are trying to ID another kid than an adult," Wells said.
Studies show that young children do relatively well in recognizing a culprit in a photo or physical lineup.
But in lineups that contain no culprit, they also are much more likely than adults to choose a suspect anyway.
Via Tom Kirkendall, who thinks the parole "process is ripe for a constitutional challenge."