It seems that several time a week , we hear of a conviction overturned by DNA evidence, or due to some prosecutors misconduct. A recent case in point is the case of some romantic hanky panky going on between a Court of Criminal Appeals Judge, and a Collin County District Attorney at the time of the now infamous Charles Hood murder case. Mr. Hood received a stay of execution as a result of this information. How many more cases were possibly affected? Many! In fact, The Dallas Morning News says that the “Former prosecutor, judge intimacy may affect more than a single death row case”.
Other cases include DNA evidence that proved that The Snitch who walked for his testimony turned out to be real killer, rapist; prosecutor became judge, and soon elected DA.
Other DNA related cases include a number, around 35, exonerations in the state of Texas. Most of these original convictions based on the assured results of “eyewitness testimony”! Emotional pair of DNA exonerations argue for changing eyewitness ID procedures.
The Dallas county Public Defenders office has lost at least 6 public defenders recently. “Two of those lawyers – Mike Howard and David Woodruff – just opened their own practice, and their website includes a blog whose first post gives their reasons for leaving the PD office.” According to Grits for Breakfast a well known Criminal Justice blog.
I could continue to list problems of this nature from now till doomsday, but the above listed cases make the point. Something is dreadfully wrong with the way our system is working, or not working, as the case may be.
Personal experience, having sat on a few juries, leads me to believe that much of this has to do with the way juries are instructed in criminal cases, at least the ones that I know of. The instruction leaves little or no room for “reasonable doubt.” In many cases, it almost seems as though the jury is told, “We have the criminal, he did the crime, it is your job to send him or her away. He or she is guilty by virtue of the fact that we arrested him or her.” I know that this is an over simplification, but it does seem to be true.
I think that most Americans are living under the assumption that one is innocent until proven guilty. That is what we were told in civics and government classes, but when it comes to the real world, especially in places like Smith county, it no longer seems to be the case. Innocent until proven guilty, runs head on into reasonable doubt instructions, and defense attorneys, instead of defending clients, end up trying to prove innocence to create reasonable doubt. This is the exact opposite of the way our trial by jury system was intended!
In light of the information flooding in every day, that so many cases, based on eyewitness testimony are being overturned by DNA evidence in particular, it is time to take a long hard look at the idea of eyewitness testimony, and it’s reliability, before the justice system has more egg on it’s face. The “way we have always done it” was apparently wrong! Something must be done to regain credibility. Continuing down the same path will lead to further public distrust. Official credibility is being lost at an astonishing rate, and the trial by jury system was one of the few places that the public felt it could place it’s confidence. Losing faith in this part of the system, could signal the beginning of anarchy!