So often when DNA is used to exonerate convicted rapists, those who dislike the current rape laws and their enforcement say that all of the problems which lead to wrongful imprisonment are specific to rape cases. But this case shows that the problems are not specific to rape and/or murder cases.
Last week (11/2) , in an article reported by H.G. Reza of the LA TIMES, James Ochoa was exonerated by DNA evidence in a carjacking case, the first such DNA exoneration in a non-rape or murder case.
At the time of trial, prosecutors knew that DNA found on the sweatband of a cap found in the stolen car was not Ochoa's. They also knew that his fingerprints did not match those found on the car. But two eyewitnesses identified him so they took the case to trial. Three days into the trial, Ochoa was offered a plea deal. Plead guilty and you'll get out in two years. The deal was too tempting, especially given that the judge told Ochoa, who had several priors, that if he was convicted, he would go away for life.
Over his attorney's advice, Ochoa pled guilty. The twenty year old spent 10 months in prison when the very same DNA that prosecutors ignored, exonerated him. The DNA at the crime scene was linked to another man, Jaymes T. McCollum, was in L.A. County jail on carjacking charges.
The reality may be that more people are willing to believe prisoners who are incarcerated on rape charges and who insist they are innocent. Inmates on death row may also get more attention because of an opposition to the death penalty or a determination to make sure that no innocent people are put to death.
Not so many people are jumping at the opportunity to prove that a convicted carjacker is innocent. Neither are people jumping in as quickly to make sure that everyone in prison for drug charges is truly guilty.
I've heard people say that the reason for the limited distrust of the system -- where the system is seen as fair except for rape cases -- is the length of sentences, but many people in prison on drug charges may have equally long sentences so that can't be the central reason.
Maybe the details of disputed rape cases hit too close to home for some people and they can see themselves in the alleged rapist's position.
Technorati tags: rape crime politics sexual violence sexual assault feminism