Thursday, September 20, 2007

Another Exonerated Man Found Guilty

This case is important because it again raises important issues about the bias of those involved in the exoneration movement.

The first man [Thomas Doswell] in Allegheny County [Pennsylvania] to have his rape conviction overturned by DNA evidence is guilty of keeping a 17-year-old girl in his car against her will.

This conviction creates a stark contrast to the image created by the story told upon his release.

More than 200 men have had their convictions vacated because of results of DNA tests and that number is often used as evidence that there are thousands of innocent men in prison who could be cleared by DNA analysis of old evidence. The absence of mention about exonerated women creates the false impression that women are never wrongfully convicted of serious crimes.

From the details of this newest conviction, I believe this girl likely would have become a rape victim if the man hadn't crashed his car. This incident raises serious issues about the way exonerated is normally equated with proof of innocence.

Joel Jacobsen of Judging Crimes wrote:

But is there actually any reason, other than the self-promotion, to believe that the Project is freeing the innocent, as opposed to the guilty whose guilt can't be re-proved beyond a reasonable doubt after the passage of many years?

This isn't the first case where someone who was exonerated was later found guilty of a crime which had echoes of the vacated conviction. In the other case I'm aware of, Steven Avery who was exonerated on rape charges due to efforts by the Innocence Project later was convicted of murdering and dismembering a woman. At the time Eric Ferrero, spokesman of national Innocence Project, said, "Obviously it's an anomaly."

But is it really if there is a confusion between exonerating due to creating doubt -- and the perception of innocence -- and exonerating because there is absolute proof that the exonerated person is innocent?

The easy response I'm sure I'll get from some people is that prison must be what's responsible for later crimes, but that's a lazy response which refuses to consider that the process of exoneration is no more perfect than the process of conviction.

Update: Duke University has announced that it will establish a center devoted to justice and training lawyers to fight wrongful convictions. The problem with this is that it is a one-sided response to a 2-sided problem. That means they may also be training lawyers to fight rightful but imperfect convictions.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 12:08 AM   0 comments links to this post


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