Sunday, September 18, 2005

Why do innocent people go to prison?

Why do innocent people go to prison?

Following a study published in the journal
Science analyzing reasons for false convictions, columnist Rick Casey proposes this test for Houston police and prosecutors in this morning's Houston Chronicle:

"An analysis was done of 86 criminal convictions that DNA evidence later found to be wrong. Please rank the factors most often found to have contributed to the wrongful convictions:

•Incompetent defense lawyers.
•Police misconduct.
•Eyewitness errors.
•False testimony by forensic scientists.
•Prosecutorial misconduct.
•False confessions.
•Errors in scientific testing.
•False testimony by lay witnesses.
•Dishonest informants.

"If you ranked false confessions last, you are right. But did you guess 17 percent of the cases, nearly one in five, featured false confessions? That percentage tied with false testimony by lay witnesses.

"If you ranked eyewitness errors first, you were also right. Erroneous eyewitness accounts showed up in a stunning 71 percent of these cases. ...

"[F]ully 63 percent of the cases featured errors of forensic science. What's more, in 27 percent of the cases forensic scientists gave false or misleading testimony."

So, according to this study, misidentification by witnesses and bad forensic science are the most common reasons innocent people go to prison. Requiring corroboration for eyewitnesses' testimony (when they had no prior relationship with the defendant) would go a long way toward resolving the former, but in an era when even fingerprint evidence is coming under fire, the latter will require expensive, substantive reforms.


Anonymous said...

I have a loved one serving a life sentence due to false witness. His list of people for his alibi were never called. He was at his birthday party when the murder took place. The finger print on the gun holster was not his. His court appointed attorney did not call a single witness. He has been incarcerated for 13 years.
His appeal was denied.
Any ideas? We do not have money
for an attorney. The State of Texas does not allow pro bono on
murder cases.

Anonymous said...

One would think that what was truly an unfair trial... that one should not still be in prison after 20 yrs. if u read ALL the facts about this case u would know this is not justice. it was the case of Larry DeLisle & how the incompetent police force of Wyandotte, MI. handled this case.and the court system did too. why? cant such innocent folks have the truth be told as it really happened?