During a prolonged standing ovation, the Texas exonerees were brought forward one by one. By the time the introductions were done, 14 men and one woman, each having served years in prison for crimes they did not commit, stood together on a stage at the University of Texas at Arlington.
“On this panel there is 200 years of incarceration,” one of them, Anthony Robinson, told a large crowd of students, educators, relatives and government officials. “Two hundred years of suffering. Two hundred years of ignoring a problem that is screaming to be dealt with.
“You have a chance to make a phenomenal difference,” said Robinson, who was wrongly convicted of rape. “This is a cause.”
Wrongful convictions are the greatest tragedy of the justice. There is no telling how many innocent people are servicing time or have serviced time for crimes they did not commit. The majority of the cases mentioned in the article were overturned due to DNA evidence. One must wonder, however, of the dozens of cases the Innocence Project gets sent that have no such evidence proving a person’s innocence. This is particularly problematic in rape cases where in most cases there is nothing but the accuser’s testimony as evidence. There are more cases in which evidence from the crime scene of murders or robberies has been lost or destroyed. These are situations in which the innocent have no means of proving it.
More often than not prosecutors are hesitant to redress cases of wrongful convictions, so it is quite impressive that one District Attorney was willing to join in the fight:
They also praised Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins, whose office joined the Innocence Project to investigate innocence claims and expedite exonerations. More prisoners have been cleared in Dallas County than in any other U.S. county.
“Dallas has a head start on the rest of the country,” said Robinson, who spent a decade in prison and became a lawyer after his exoneration. “Do not let his term pass away. Do not let the voice of reason and justice be silenced because they do not like to look at the faces they tried to throw away.”
If more District Attorney offices took the same initiative there is no telling how many cases of wrongful conviction would be revealed. While some cases result from questionable witness testimony and sloppy or falsified police work, some result directly from prosecutors and District Attorneys playing politics with cases and going ahead when they know their cases have problems, either with the evidence or the witness testimony. Part of the issue here is that there are no real penalties for taking questionable cases to trial. What happened to Mike Nifong is extremely rare. The same holds true for law enforcement officers and officials. They made get reprimanded, possibly suspended without pay, but typically do not lose their jobs and very rarely face any substantial criminal charges that would result in any prison time. Some of the cases that we have seen might not have gone through if there were real consequences for playing race politics or flat-out lying.
And ultimately it is the state — the prosecutors and their offices — who are responsible for wrongful convictions, not only because they are the ones who bring those cases before judge and jury, but also because they are often the ones who are most loath to acknowledge wrongful convictions. This does not mean there are no prosecutors who care about the wrongfully convicted, only that most seemingly go out of their way to pretend it never happens. There are no apologies, the most basic human gesture, given or extended, no attempts to change the system or policies. That is one of the key reasons why some many innocent people end up in prison, and this is just with cases in which it can be later proven via physical evidence the person is innocent.
Anthony Robinson was correct: this is a cause. It is one all people should support because time and time again we have seen it takes next to nothing for the wrong person to end up spending decades in prison.