Monday, October 13, 2008

DA Watch: Dallas County Prosecutors Routinely Convicted Innocent Men, Using Eyewitness Testimony Known to Be Faulty

Let's all stop for a minute and appreciate the efforts of the Dallas Morning News -- who released a report yesterday that summarized their 8 month investigation into 19 Dallas County convictions that were later overturned as being clearly WRONG because of DNA evidence.

These reporters asked the question -- why didn't the investigation or the prosecution reveal that an innocent man was being accused?

Journalists at the Dallas Morning News looked at the complete files of these 19 cases, all overturned because DNA has revealed that an innocent man was convicted of the crime. And these were serious crimes -- rape, murder.

What they found isn't pretty.

According to their own published report, in all but ONE of these wrongful convictions, the prosecutors chose to build their case on eyewitness testimony.

This, despite the longstanding and common knowledge among prosecutors and defense attorneys alike - as well as academics and researchers - that eyewitness accounts are simply unreliable.

You just can't trust eyewitness accounts of what happened. They're rarely accurate. Everyone knows this.

Which makes what they found all the more shocking ....

From the Dallas Morning News, in part:

1. Thirteen of the 19 wrongly convicted men were black. Eight of the 13 were misidentified by victims of another race. Police investigators and prosecutors in the cases were all white, as were many of the juries of the 1980s.

2. Police officers used suggestive lineup procedures, sometimes pressured victims to pick their suspect and then cleared the case once an identification was made.

3. Prosecutors frequently went to trial with single-witness identifications and flimsy corroboration. Some tried to preserve shaky identifications by withholding evidence that pointed to other potential suspects.

4. Judges, governed by case law that has not kept pace with developments in DNA testing or research on eyewitness testimony, routinely approved even tainted pretrial identifications as long as an eyewitness expressed certainty in court.

Here's the thing:

You just don't take a man's life, or his freedom, on a case that is dependent upon eyewitness testimony for a conviction. And, yet, the Dallas County Prosecutors thought this was a fine thing to do -- and did it for years, apparently.

(They're not alone. According to the Dallas County Morning News investigation, misidentifications have been cited as a key factor in an estimated 75 percent of the 220 wrongful convictions exposed by DNA testing nationwide since 1989. Looks like prosecutors across the country would rather get another win on their resumes than avoid trying a case that doesn't have much evidence except for eyewitness testimony.)

Thank you, Dallas Morning News. Specifically, thank you DMN reporters Steve McGonigle and Jennifer Emily. Thank you.


Dallas Morning News

Dallas Morning News

Houston Chronicle

New York Times

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