Friday, January 06, 2006


Guilty Until Proven Innocent

Guilty until proven innocent. When one of the foundational principles of American jurisprudence is reversed, it’s always troubling. In death penalty cases, it’s downright tragic.

Evidence is growing – and public consensus is beginning to realize – that in our court system, as everywhere else in life, mistakes happen. That fact alone is helping to sway public opinion against the death penalty, and politicians (as well as Hollywood execs) are beginning to notice.

Yesterday, outgoing Virginia Gov. Mark Warner ordered DNA testing that could prove the guilt or innocence of a man executed in 1992, in a state where (according to the Washington Post) “officials and judges have routinely refused to reexamine evidence in criminal cases after a defendant's conviction and have been steadfast in their denials of post-execution requests.” An American University criminal law professor said the cause “could be the biggest turning point in death penalty abolition.”

While the Virginia case could be the first time an executed person is cleared through genetic tests, others have been exonerated – tragically after-the-fact – by other means. For example, in November the only witness to an alleged shooting by a 17-year-old in Houston later recanted his testimony, admitting that the alleged shooter wasn’t even at the scene the night of the murder (“Witness Clears Man Executed in Texas...”). But despite his innocence, the defendant had been put to death by the state of Texas.

Pop culture is also catching the wave. A new ABC series “inJustice” features Kyle MacLachlan as the head of the National Justice Project – an agency “that focuses on cases where justice has not been served and innocent people have been wrongly convicted of crimes.” In February Court TV is offering an original movie called “The Exonerated,” featuring stories about “innocence, injustice, and redemption.”

Last week The Economist magazine wrote that “America may be changing its mind” about the death penalty, contending that “Even when it is carefully administered, America’s machinery of death still seems cruel and unusual.” Eighty-six countries, the magazine reports, including all 25 members of the European Union, have abolished capital punishment. And while the majority of Americans still support the death penalty, the level of support is dropping (from 80% in 1994 to 64% last October), indication that the country is finally moving away from capital punishment. Ending the execution of innocent people is one good reason to do so.

Dude. You really should start blogging again. You're missed!
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