News coverage during this past week has shown how courts across the country have not been placing due importance on presence of DNA evidence and why they should be.
Evidence of Virginia’s wrongful incarceration record has risen with their post-conviction DNA project’s release of DNA test results. DNA from 38 different crimes do not link to the people convicted for them. Only five of them have led to exonerations.
It was previously estimated that the wrongful conviction rate was 3%. This study indicates that the rate may actually be closer to 15%.
“As much as one in six convicted offenders in Virginia in the ’70s and ‘80s for sexual assault probably wasn’t the right person,” said John Roman who is leading the Urban Institute’s (Washington, D.C.) study of the results.
Roman finds this Virginia-specific study to be reflective of courts all around the country.
Peter Neufeld, co-founder of the New York-based Innocence Project, said most prosecutors do not resist DNA testing. However, those in Illinois’ Cook and Lake Counties constantly reject cases brought forward, even with logical reasoning behind them.
In an earlier post, we discussed James Edwards’ appeals for testing the blood found at the scene of the murder he has now been exonerated of. Thanks to his efforts, the blood linked to another man who is now incarcerated for the crime. But had he not “wasted the time” of the courts, he would still be in prison.
Murder convict Dennis Dechaine, of one of the most-known murder cases in Maine, is awaiting DNA testing of more evidence from the crime scene. He believes the results will link to the real perpetrator. Dechaine has maintained his innocence for more than 24 years.
Prosecutor Bill Stokes said, “when you put this really unknown piece of evidence in the context with the other evidence in the case it’s overwhelming as to the guilt of Mr. Dechaine.”
Like any other piece of evidence, it should be considered side-by-side with all of the pertinent facts. Stokes should not be so sure of his assessment just yet.
According to the New England Cable News, the victim’s mother, Peg Cherry, said, “victims should have some rights, too, not just all criminals. Why they call it criminal justice, we want justice for the victims, too.”
While her plight is understandable, we must remember that true justice for the victim is true justice for the right criminal.
The Innocence Project also raised this issue here.