Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Guilty until proved Innocent

by Carola Dunn

Most, if not all, mystery writers know that eyewitness evidence is highly unreliable. Somehow the message hasn't yet got through to the justice system.

I was just reading about a man in Washington state who has been in prison for 17 years for rape, after being identified by the victim. The Justice Project has been fighting for years to get DNA evidence admitted on appeal. When they finally won a review of the scrapings of skin recovered from the victim's fingernails, the DNA turned out to be that of an unknown person.

Not the man who had been convicted. Not the man who spent 17 years in prison. Not the man who had his life ruined by a case of mistaken identity.

And when he was exonerated and released, he was presented with a bill from the state for $111,000 for child support. The state has no law that compensates for wrongful imprisonment.

If this were a single instance, we might comfortably ignore it. But I'm sure we've all--being interested in criminal matters--read about people on death row who have been cleared of wrong-doing just in time, and those whose appeals have been refused without review of evidence that could clear them.

A majority of the countries of the world have abolished the death penalty. The US is one of the very few "developed" countries that retains and regularly makes use of it, most of the rest for treason only. Last I heard, the number of judicial executions in the US was exceeded only by China, Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. Great company! How many of them were wrongful? We'll never know.

Henry Cecil, who was a barrister, wrote a great short story (which unfortunately I've mislaid) about a vehicle accident that several eyewitnesses agreed was caused by a particular driver in a particular car. The lawyer gradually demolishes them all. At the end, it's revealed--but not in court--that the defendant wasn't even driving the car at the time. He's protecting his pregnant wife. And all those witnesses had claimed to have seen him at the wheel...

Well, as you can tell, the whole subject makes me hot under the collar. After that rant, here's a little light relief:


Commenting on a complaint from a Mr. Arthur Purdey about a large gas bill, a spokesman for North West Gas said, 'We agree it was rather high for the time of year. It's possible Mr. Purdey has been charged for the gas used up during the explosion that destroyed his house.'
(The Daily Telegraph)

Police reveal that a woman arrested for shoplifting had a whole salami in her underwear. When asked why, she said it was because she was missing her Italian boyfriend.
(The Manchester Evening News)

Irish police are being handicapped in a search for a stolen van, because they cannot issue a description. It's a Special Branch vehicle and they don't want the public to know what it looks like.
(The Guardian)

A young girl who was blown out to sea on a set of inflatable teeth was rescued by a man on an inflatable lobster. A coast guard spokesman commented, 'This sort of thing is all too common'.
(The Times)

At the height of the gale, the harbourmaster radioed a coast guard and asked him to estimate the wind speed. He replied he was sorry, but he didn't have a gauge. However, if it was any help, the wind had just blown his Land Rover off the cliff.
( Aberdeen Evening Express)

Mrs. Irene Graham of Thorpe Avenue , Boscombe, delighted the audience with her reminiscence of the German prisoner of war who was sent each week to do her garden. He was repatriated at the end of 1945, she recalled -
'He'd always seemed a nice friendly chap, but when the crocuses came up in the middle of our lawn in February 1946, they spelt out 'Heil Hitler.''
( Bournemouth Evening Echo)


Bill Kirton said...

I'm with you totally on the double anomaly of:
a) the USA still maintaining the death penalty
b) the refusal to make absolutely sure the convicted person really is guilty.

I was also grateful for the comic relief at the end.

Jaden Terrell said...

Like Bill, I think it's a travesty that so many are falsely convicted. The death penalty is applied in a notoriously unfair way, which is why I am against it, even though I believe there are some people who truly deserve it.

The anecdotes at the end were priceless.