DAN SIMON, professor of law and psychology, USC Gould School of Law.
This op-ed originally appeared at the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Stripping people of their liberty or life is one of the most solemn tasks exercised by liberal democracies. Yet, bizarrely, the American criminal-justice system pays too little regard to the factual accuracy of its verdicts.
Consider the steady trickle of exonerations, which occur at a rate few observers would have predicted not long ago. The recently launched National Registry of Exonerations lists the details of 989 exonerees since 1989, and the Innocence Project reports on 300 convicted inmates who have been exonerated based on DNA testing alone. (An additional group of 1,170 defendants have been exonerated in 13 “group exonerations” that followed major police scandals.) No doubt, the actual number of false convictions is much higher.
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DAN SIMON, professor of law and psychology, USC’s Gould School of Law.
This op-ed originally appeared in the Los Angeles Daily Journal.
To its credit, the Los Angeles district attorney’s office did not ignore the cry for freedom from a condemned inmate. As a result, convicted murderer John Edward Smith is a free man after a DA investigation learned that the sole prosecution witness had falsely identified Smith as the perpetrator in a 1993 drive-by shooting. The accuser now claims that he pointed the finger at Smith only after being misled and pressured by Los Angeles police detectives.
Smith’s ordeal demonstrates how our criminal justice process can go wrong, and it highlights why fixing the process should be at the center of the race between Jacky Lacey and Alan Jackson for office of the DA.
Los Angeles County has had its fair share of faulty criminal prosecutions. Since 1989, 26 Angelinos have been declared factually innocent after having been convicted and sentenced to prison. That’s about double the rate of exonerations in the rest of California, and it doesn’t include more than 100 false convictions produced by the Rampart scandal in the late 1990s. The true number of false convictions is no doubt much greater. Smith was exonerated only because his new lawyer managed to locate his accuser, and he was eager to recant. Likewise, Brian Banks of Long Beach was exonerated months ago of his conviction for rape only because his accuser “friended” him on Facebook, agreed to meet with him, and recanted her accusation on camera.
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DAN SIMON, professor of law, USC Gould School of Law.
This op-ed originally appeared at the Huffington Post.
Carlos DeLuna and Cameron Todd Willingham probably did not commit the crimes for which they were put to death by the state of Texas. In-depth inquiries into their convictions revealed bungled investigations, poor recordkeeping, mistaken eyewitness testimony, spurious forensic testimony and misconduct by law enforcement personnel, among other
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