Peace & Justice

This is the blog of the Commission on Peace and Justice for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, New York.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Wrongful convictions

More than two years ago, David Kaczynski, Executive Director of New Yorkers for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, wrote about what the state legislature could do to implement reforms that have been shown to reduce the frequency of wrongful convictions.

Now, he writes about the legislature’s failure to pass such reforms, which include "best practices for handling eyewitness identifications, better oversight and accountability for the state’s forensic labs, and mandatory videotaping of in custody interrogations of criminal suspects."

Mr. Kaczynski focuses on the case of Jeffrey Deskovic, who was convicted of murder and rape despite DNA evidence that clearly exonerated him.

My friend Jeff Deskovic can – and has – testified to the miscarriages of justice that can occur as a result of coerced false confessions. He should know. At the age of 16, he confessed to the rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl after 7 ½ hours in a small room with aggressive police interrogators who simply wore him down with a combination of threats and false promises.

Prior to trial, the FBI crime lab reported that Jeff’s DNA did not match the sample taken from the victim. But police and prosecutors didn’t want to admit that they had the wrong man. A trial jury subsequently convicted Jeff on the premise that no one would confess to a horrible crime if they were innocent.

It took 16 years in maximum security prisons labeled as a sex offender before Jeff was finally vindicated and released after a brand new DA used her discretion to run the DNA sample taken from the rape kit through the state’s DNA database.

Talk about the human costs of a wrongful conviction! We all sympathize with Jeff. But we seldom consider the consequences of allowing the actual perpetrator to go free. In Jeff’s case, the real murderer raped and killed another young woman 3 ½ years after Jeff was sent to prison.

Addressing wrongful convictions in a serious way should be a no-brainer – not a controversial or a partisan issue. I suspect the reason we haven’t is because state prosecutors would prefer to police themselves – and prosecutors have plenty of political clout.

You can read more here.

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