Sunday, August 17, 2008

Virginia's DNA Project

After Eva King Jones, 88, was raped and killed in her small-town Virginia home, a local man was accused and convicted. Now, 33 years later, police say newly discovered DNA evidence has led to the arrest of someone else.

Read more....

This state-wide effort to ensure the validity of convictions is a wonderful step toward restoring confidence in a system that punishes both the guilty and the innocent. However, as is all too often the case, the government is not being totally candid.

"State officials say that they are committed to ensuring that wrongly convicted people know of evidence that could lead to exoneration but that they must consider privacy and safety concerns. They stress that most offenders are guilty and won't welcome the reminder of their crimes, or news of tests that will probably confirm their guilt. They are also sensitive about reopening old wounds for victims."

What could be more important for the victims and the community than ensuring that the guilty party has been correctly identified? The unspoken factor underlying this effort by Virginia (and one that plagues similar efforts) is that the government is reluctant to admit that it is fallible. In addition to making honest mistakes, these sorts of efforts open up the proverbial can of worms by revealing class and racial bias on the part of police, prosecutors, and judges.

It is rather ironic that the courts (and society) frequently require the accused to accept responsibility for their actions, but fail to abide by the same standard when it makes a mistake.

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