(The Return of) Ignatz, by Sam Heldman

Tuesday, August 20, 2002

DNA evidence, and the death penalty The Post reports this afternoon that a Virginia man has been pardoned after serving 15 years for a rape that he did not commit. DNA evidence, and the good hard work of such groups as the Innocence Project, are responsible for this and other similar stories.

As the story notes, a dozen people who were on death row have been exonerated by DNA evidence. This shows -- as if we needed more proof -- that capital trials sometimes result in wrongful convictions. As a simple matter of logic, then, any reasonable person would have to conclude that there are some other people on death row who are in fact not guilty, but who will not be lucky enough to be exonerated because there's no physical evidence to test for DNA. This means that some innocent people have been executed, and that others will be. I don't see how anyone can reasonably avoid this conclusion.

Even if this doesn't turn you solidly against the death penalty, it certainly ought to count as a very good reason not to create stringent rules of procedural default, successive petitions, deference to state courts, etc., that get in the way of full and fair federal review of death penalty cases.

posted by sam 3:41 PM 0 comments


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