New Year Reflections

Published: 02 January 2013

Nancy Petro

Progress in the area of wrongful convictions is slow, but 2012 was a good year. We don't think we could do much better than to point you to Nancy Petro's blog, 2012: A Banner Year for the Cause of Reducing Wrongful Conviction on The Wrongful Convictions Blog. It is an excellent review of the advances made this year. Among her points were: The establishment of an inquiry whether a prosecutor will face criminal charges for his role in convicting an innocent man, the expansion of innocence projects to other countries, the New Jersey Supreme Court issuing new guidelines regarding eye witness identification, prosecutors beginning to lose reelections because of their handling of wrongful conviction cases, and other insights.

There is no question that the pendulum is beginning to swing back . . . not with great speed . . . but it is beginning to change direction. The advent of DNA exonerations historically is without precedence as a way of testing the veracity of past convictions. Now, every week we hear of a new DNA or non-DNA exoneration.

Prisoners who have been incarcerated for decades have been proven innocent. It is worth pointing out that rarely do we hear that it was a matter of the jury just getting it wrong. This is most always some form of prosecutorial misconduct, forced false confessions, intentional misreporting or incompetent forensics, or tunnel vision on the part of prosecutors so that the jury never gets the straight scoop. No one thought our system was perfect, but few thought it was capable of so many wrongful convictions.

However, 2012 has not diminished our system's capacity to wrongfully convict. The general population reads about exonerations, the righting of a wrong. What they do not read about is the unfathomable resistance that still pervades our criminal justice system, holding it back from a true, heart-felt self-examination. Consider these few areas of which there are many more:

  • DNA testing. Why, after all we have been through, do wrongfully convicted people still have to wait 5, 10, 15 years just for the right to have their DNA tested with prosecutors fighting them at every turn????? New York Times article