Who Hijacked Our Country

Monday, March 02, 2009

DNA Testing for Prisoners

This should be a no-brainer, but the Supreme Court will be deciding this question later this year: Do prisoners have the right to undergo DNA testing to prove their innocence?

Forty-four states already have laws allowing convicts to test DNA evidence. The Supreme Court case involves a rapist, William Osborne, who was convicted sixteen years ago in Alaska. A federal appeals court ruled in Osborne’s favor — the condom that he used during the rape can be tested for evidence. This would prove his guilt or innocence.

Prosecutors have appealed Osborne’s case to the Supreme Court. These prosecutors must be guilty of something. What are they hiding?

Supreme Court justices were mostly skeptical during a hearing today. And the Obama Administration has sided up with prosecutors in this case. WTF???

William Osborne is being represented by Peter Neufeld, co-founder of The Innocence Project. This group works to free prisoners who were wrongly convicted. Neufeld said: “All they're getting is a darn test. If it shows they committed the crime, they get nothing.”

Osborne admitted his guilt during a parole hearing in 2004. But Justice John Paul Stevens pointed out that some prisoners have been exonerated for crimes they had previously confessed to.

I’m all in favor of harsh penalties for violent crimes. But this has to go hand in hand with taking every possible precaution against jailing an innocent person. We’ve all seen enough screaming headlines about “convicted” rapists and murderers being freed — sometimes twenty or thirty years later — after a DNA test proved their innocence.

If an arresting officer or prosecuting attorney doesn’t want to allow DNA testing, there’s only one possible explanation: They’re covering something up. They planted incriminating evidence, they withheld evidence that would have exonerated the defendant — they’re guilty of something.

cross-posted at Bring It On!

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Blogger Enemy of the Republic said...

I agree. This should be a no-brainer.

March 2, 2009 at 11:30 AM  
Blogger Demeur said...

That's kind of curious considering they want all persons charged with a felony DNA tested so they have a data base. The problem with that will be the cost. Each test runs about $600.
I agree this is a no brainer. If It cost $25k+ to house a prisoner for a year that test would be cheap compared to holding an inocent person for years. I think the other thing these prosecutors are looking at is the law suit that follows when the defendant is found inocent. It's always about the money not the justice.

March 2, 2009 at 12:07 PM  
Blogger Lew Scannon said...

If the prosecutor is up for re-election anytime soon, it wouldn't look too good to have his convictions thrown out. Better to keep a man in prison than admit you made a mistake. Must be a Republican.

March 2, 2009 at 12:18 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Enemy: Yes, definitely a no-brainer.

Demeur: Prosecutors and law enforcement are just trying to have it both ways. Like you said, they want to collect as many DNA samples as they can so they'll have this huge database. But if a DNA sample might prove somebody's innocence -- no dice. It's "too expensive" or it might reveal that cops and/or prosecutors tried to cut corners or frame the suspect.

Lew: Yup, I think that's their motive. If a DNA test proves innocence, the prosecuting attorney is getting a shitty performance review, right in front of God and everybody. Better to just keep 'em behind bars and cover everything up.

March 2, 2009 at 6:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ain't that America? Potentially innocent man locked behind bars, Donald Rumsfeld, still a free man.

March 2, 2009 at 6:50 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Ron: Good example of two people who should switch places.

March 2, 2009 at 7:17 PM  
Anonymous S.W. Anderson said...

I think Lew Scannon is on to the problem here, but it could even be less than pure politics. Some prosecutors just don't want a loss on their score card.

Like Tom says, something's going on here.

March 2, 2009 at 9:20 PM  
Blogger Carlos said...

Meanwhile, white collar criminals are allowed to luxuriate in their fucking mansions, hiding all the money they pilfered from their victims.

No-brainer is right!

March 3, 2009 at 3:03 AM  
Blogger DB said...

Wow, this sounds pretty shady to me. If the prisoner declares he is innocent (under oath) and claims that DNA evidence can exonerate him, he should have the right to the test. It seems that the conservative justices believe there is a statute of limitations on innocence.

March 3, 2009 at 5:38 AM  
Blogger Randal Graves said...

Hey, do we even have any money left after giving it away to Iraqi contractors, banks, governmental hangers-on, cousins, high school pals, drinking buddies and Dick Cheney? ;-)

March 3, 2009 at 7:26 AM  
Blogger rockync said...

Here in NC, we do DNA testing for a database if court ordered. It is useful for both sides but there is a caveat as there is to anything - beware trusting too heavily on DNA. There was a case (and I'd have to dig to find it now) where DNA did NOT match the guilty party. Seems there is a rare condition where a person can have different DNA in their blood as opposed to cells. Weird.
Also, imagine a crime committed by more than one person. Maybe one holds the victim down while the other does the actual deed. Or maybe they are there holding a weapon - still guilty, but maybe no DNA.
That all being said, I DO think thoughtful consideration should be given to DNA testing, especially in rape cases where there is only one known assailant because there is evidence to support the claim that victims usually make the worst witnesses and frquently identify the wrong person.
What each state needs is a independent panel set up to review these cases separate from influence from anyone involved in the original case. They probably need to be lifetime appointees much like the Supreme Court.

March 3, 2009 at 7:50 AM  
Blogger William Newmiller said...

Why would the people of Alaska not want to know for sure if the inmate, William Osborne, was in fact the perpetrator? My guess is that the people--the real people, not the fiction that the prosecution represents--would want to know. Which leads to another question: why do citizens put up with prosecutors with little interest in seeking truth?

March 3, 2009 at 11:20 AM  
Blogger Miss Kitty said...

Excellent points, Tom & commenters.

Off-topic: Tom, when will you comment on Michael Steele & Rash Limburger? :-) I can't WAIT to read what you're going to write. Hee-hee.

March 3, 2009 at 11:44 AM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Carlos: But white collar criminals aren't really "bad" people; they're decent church-going people who simply got misguided and carried away :)

DB: A "statute of limitations on innocence" LOL. That sounds like something conservatives would believe.

Randal: It's all a matter of priorities. Wall Street and Halliburton come first, then we'll see if there's anything left over.

Rockync: I saw a CSI episode like that -- the perp had two sets of DNA, or something. I didn't know there was ever a real-life case like that. I like your idea of having an independent impartial panel to review these cases.

William: You're right; I'm sure the people of Alaska would want to know whether the person who's served 16 years in jail is actually guilty. If he isn't, that means the real perp is still out there.

Miss Kitty: Thanks. I don't know whether I'll do a post on Limberger and his disciples vs. Michael Steele, but the story sure was amusing. The Republican Party is just too pathetic for words if they're that terrified of one clueless loudmouth.

March 3, 2009 at 2:49 PM  
Anonymous JollyRoger said...

Prosecutors don't like to admit error, even in life and death matters. Just ask Roland Burris.

March 3, 2009 at 5:13 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

JR: They sure don't. Prosecutors are probably as bad as legislative politicians for having skeletons in their closets.

March 3, 2009 at 6:39 PM  
Blogger Mile High Pixie said...

The resistance to DNA testing of prisoners never makes sense to me. The very reason that Demeur mentions makes the DNA test the greatest idea since the Swiffer. As a matter of fact, Colorado is considering suspending all death penalties because a) they cost way too much to have/manage/see through, and b) they don't actually work in dissuading people from being really horrible to each other.

March 3, 2009 at 7:22 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

MHP: "the greatest idea since the Swiffer" LOL. I can't imagine any other motive for being against DNA tests, other than the prosecutor trying to cover something up.

March 3, 2009 at 7:34 PM  
Anonymous Bee said...

In my past lifetime as a paralegal to a general practice lawfirm, which mostly handled criminal cases. The thing about prosecutors, and police, is that they are under enormous pressure (both from up high in the political ladder, and from down low - from us citizens) to solve cases.

It is no coincidence that the majority of death row inmates are economically poor, African American men. This is because, when the case "Has" to be solved, due to pressures from up-high (governor, mayor, etc) and from down-low (victims families, neighbors, local citizens, media, etc), black men are easy targets. I hate to say it, but it is true. And yes, sometimes the prosecution doesn't want the DNA evidence released because it would be damning to their original case which put the accused in prison to begin with. What I know from experience is that public defenders tend to be underpaid, overworked, burned out and easy to beat. And yeah, losses for the prosecutors look bad on the scorecard, because those local prosecutors go on to become state congress, and then House Reps and Senators, and attorney generals, Judges, etc. etc. etc.
I personally feel that prosecutors should be banned from seeking any higher office - these are people lives they play with for their own advancement, and more often than not, these people have absolutely no recourse to fairer justice, and have to take what is given them. Banning a prosecutor from seeking higher office would weed out the corrupt, that's for certain, because a lot of the time, they don't make much money unless they've been at it for many years.

I'm not saying that all prosecutors are corrupt, but some are, and the details of the system seems to encourage it now.

March 4, 2009 at 4:57 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Bee: Very good points. That might be a solution to ambitious powercrazed prosecutors -- banning prosecutors from seeking higher office; sort of the same premise as conflict-of-interest laws. It might be a little extreme (and any politician who supported it would be labeled "soft on crime") but this is a problem that we need to deal with.

This has been a common theme in movies and TV shows -- a corrupt DA who either framed somebody and/or is covering up the fact that a prisoner was framed. And I'm sure you saw real-life cases like this when you were a paralegal.

March 4, 2009 at 8:06 PM  
Anonymous Bee said...

Tom, well, most of our clients were drug dealers and gangbangers from the East Richmond 'hood, so they mostly did what they were accused of. However, a man here in VA who served 8 years for rape was just recently exonerated for a rape he was accused and convicted of committing in the 70's. The DNA showed he didn't do it. Nearly every day we hear of another prisoner getting set free because he didn't do the crime. That to me is a disgusting and reprehensible turn of events. Talk about creating a whole sub-segment of the population full of hate and loathing.

March 6, 2009 at 7:13 PM  

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