An article I was reading yesterday mentioned that from 1989 until the time the article was written in 2018, there were more than 2,000 exonerations. Aliza B. Kaplan and Janis C. Puracal, “It’s Not a Match: Why the Law Can’t Let Go of Junk Science” 81.3 Alb.L.Rev. 895, 921 (2018).
Many of those people, like Mr. Maurice Hastings, lost massive chunks of their lives. In his case, 38 years.
The sad part, as one news story stated, is that
Hastings sought DNA testing in 2000, but at that time, the DA’s office denied the request.— J. Emilio Flores, “L.A. man wrongly imprisoned for 38 years declared innocent” (March 2, 2023)
WHY do prosecutors fight DNA testing? Because they really don’t care if an innocent man dies in prison.
“Great” Lawyers Convict Innocent Men
As noted in M. Chris Fabricant’s book, “Junk Science & the American Criminal Justice System,” one DA has even bragged,
[A]ny prosecutor could convict a guilty man, but it takes a real pro to convict an innocent man.— Dallas District Attorney (from 1951-1987) Henry Wade, quoted in M. Chris Fabricant, Junk Science and the American Criminal Justice System, 142 (2022)
Who says that? Prosecutors, that’s who. Yeah, “not all prosecutors.” But DA Henry Wade said it, and one of his attorneys, Neil Pask, did it. Pask convinced a jury to convict Steven Chaney for a double-homicide he did not do.
In addition to DA Wade, a New York Assistant District Attorney named Christopher Belling is noted in a 2019 civil rights suit as having a similar favorite saying:
“It takes a good lawyer to get a guilty man off, but it takes a great lawyer to convict an innocent one.— Dixon v. City of Buffalo, et al, 1:19-cv-01678-WMS (2019)
It doesn’t get much more twisted than that.
How Many Innocents Will Die in Prison Because of No DNA?
Nor were Wade and Pask the only prosecutors who do not really care about doing justice. Our jails and prisons hold many falsely-accused people. Sadly, though, DNA is not available in all cases. Not even in all cases where you might expect to find it.
This is especially true for America’s new love affair of going after men — it’s virtually always men — for alleged sexual improprieties allegedly committed decades ago. In this case, there’s no DNA to convict, nor to exonerate. Convictions happen anyway.
In numerous other cases, investigators simply do not bother to try collecting DNA.
And, if they did? As already noted above, prosecutors resist testing DNA when it might exonerate someone falsely convicted.
Jurors Make the Final Decision on Evidence
This is why I harp on the idea that jurors need to cast a jaundiced eye toward the prosecution story during trials. The job of prosecutors at a trial is — at least in their minds — to convict. They might be wrong. They might be uncertain. But someone has been arrested, and it’s their job to see that person convicted.
Many times, a prosecutor with a very weak case admits to having a weak case, but tells me he cannot dismiss it. The reason is nearly always what I would call “political.” Lower-level prosecutors fear being fired by upper-level prosecutors. The highest-level prosecutor in a given county fears being fired by voters.
Asses must be covered. And, when a good way of doing so cannot be found, it goes to a jury, whether it’s a weak case, or not.
Our system relies upon jurors to question the evidence. Innocent defendants rely upon jurors to question the evidence. And in the weak cases I just mentioned, even the prosecutor relies on jurors to question the evidence.
“Back in the day,” that’s what juries did.
After years of widespread abuse by courts stacked with King George’s cronies, our Founders established the right to a jury trial. The colonists wanted to ensure that members of their community would be responsible for safeguarding their liberty and rights.— U.S. District Court Judge Jack Zouhary, “Jury Duty: A Founding Principle of American Democracy” (undated; last visited March 8, 2023)
If you are a juror, listen to the prosecution story. And remember that your job is to safeguard the liberty and rights of your fellow citizens, just as you would want them to do for you.
Ask yourself if there is something that doesn’t fit. See if the government — that’s the prosecution, law enforcement, but also the judge — just seems to be papering over something.
In another post, I’ll explain how your first clue is the use of an expert witness by the prosecution.