Wednesday, November 01, 2006

10th exoneration in five years highlights flaws in Dallas law enforcement

Barry Scheck and the NYC-based Innocence Project scored another Texas victory this week. See Wretched of the Earth's discussion of Larry Fuller's triumphant release after 25 years of incarceration for a crime he did not commit ("Innocent man released after 25 years in prison," Dallas News, Nov. 1). The case amounts to yet another major black eye for Dallas law enforcement - the tenth DNA exoneration of defendants convicted in Dallas County in just five years, and that doesn't even include dozens of dismissed cases from the Dallas fake drug scandal.

Wretched partly blames DPD's faulty photo lineups for Fuller's wrongful conviction. It's always a powerful moment when a witness in court points to a defendant and says they're guilty. But how that identification is made can influence witnesses to mistakenly finger an innocent defendant. Writes the Dallas public defender:
The worst part about this is the eyewitness identification techniques. When the police show a victim a photo lineup and the victim can't identify the perpetrator or is tentative about making the identification, the next step is very tricky. As psychologists will tell you, if the police show another photo lineup where the only person in common with the first lineup is the suspect they want the victim to identify, the victim is likely to identify the suspect based on the fact that they've seen him mulitple times (not b/c he's the actual perpetrator). It's a more subtle way to suggest the answer to the victim during the lineup (another old, and thankfully abandoned, trick would be putting five white males in with the one black male who just so happens to be the suspect).
Mistaken eyewitnesses are a lot more common than most people think. Personally I think all eyewitness testimony should be corroborated where the witness did not previously know the suspect - that would go a long way to reducing the number of innocent people convicted of crimes. The Innocence Project reports the main factors leading to wrongful convictions in 130 DNA exonerations they've secured so far were:
  • 3 Faulty DNA Inclusions at Time of Trial
  • 35 False Confessions
  • 21 Informants/Snitches Giving Inaccurate Testimony
  • 21 Innacurate Microscopic Hair Comparison Matches
  • 101 Mistaken I.D.
UPDATE: Former Dallas PD Injustice Anywhere wishes she'd been there for Fuller's release, and links to video.

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