Friday, February 23, 2007

Destruction of DNA evidence thwarts justice

Via The Wretched of the Earth we discover yet another case where faulty eyewitness testimony helped convict an innocent defendant of a sex crime in Dallas, this time for an alleged gang rape. The Dallas News covered the story this morning ("DA joins fight to clear man," 2-23). By all appearances, this will be Dallas' 13th recent exoneration based on DNA testing.

The victim at the time picked the defendant out of a photo array, but the man had been included only as a result of mistaken identity. Police had mistaken him for the real named suspect identified by a co-defendant, who had the same first and last name. (As an aside: How many of these cases do we have to see before Texas requires improvements in police methods of eyewitness identification?) Even worse, when police discovered their mistake they kept mum. Reported the News:
Evidence that identified James Earl Giles as the true rapist was given to Dallas police before James Curtis Giles' 1983 trial but never disclosed to his trial attorney, a violation of laws requiring exculpatory evidence to be produced.
Without DNA evidence to re-test, the truth would never have come out. But it appears today's prosecutors have learned that lesson and figured out a way to avoid that happening. On the DA's user forum, Williamson County DA John Bradley advised a fellow prosecutor that they should seek an agreement to destroy DNA evidence as part of a plea bargain (to life without parole in a capital murder case), so nobody can come along later and prove the defendant didn't do it.

How's that for living up to a prosecutor's oath to "seek justice"?

The law allows plea agreements to waive future DNA testing. Bradley pointed out that, "Innocence, though, has proven to trump most anything." As a result, he said:
A better approach might be to get a written agreement that all the evidence can be destroyed after the conviction and sentence. Then, there is nothing to test or retest. Harris County regularly seeks such agreements.
And that's probably why Harris County hasn't seen the number of DNA exonerations as in Dallas - when cases like this involving police or prosecutor misconduct arise and DNA evidence is the only way to prove it, they've already destroyed the potentially exonerating evidence.

That's pretty smart if all prosecutors care about is racking up wins, but it's morally abhorrent for anyone who cares about truth or justice.

BLOGVERSATION: Michael Connelly at Corrections Sentencing protests that my characterization of such plea agreements as morally abhorrent "doesn't even come close to covering it. This is pure CYA and substituting the worst form of human evil for justice." Fine, then. Correction noted.

UPDATE: DAs' reaction and Grits' response.


Anonymous said...

This surprises you?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Not so much as it disgusts me.

Anonymous said...

This is outrageous and disgusting, and why Dallas County's new District Attorney is getting praise for doing the right thing but questions as to whether the rest of the state can as well.

Anonymous said...

I could not find Bradley's quote on the Prosecutors' website. If this is an accurate quote, he should be investigated by the Legislature and the State Bar. /s/ JUDGE RON CHAPMAN

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Judge, I've been having trouble with the link changing on me or something, and re-adjusted it this a.m.. Click on the link that says "on the DAs' user forum" and it took me right to it just now. Or go here and into the "Criminal" Section to find the string titled "Waive DNA Testing?" The quotes are from JB (John Bradley) in the second and fourth comments. I've saved the string in case they delete it. best,

Anonymous said...

*law drops* Oh my god are you serious? I don't see how this is legal. Every time (or almost every time unless its false accusations) a innocent man goes to prison a guilty goes free.

Alice said...

Truly distressing. How can we have any faith in a criminal justice system if that is the mentality of the public servants charged with administering justice? Thanks so much for focusing on these issues.

Anonymous said...

Here are the grievance procedures, but who would have standing to file it, and under what rule?