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DNA evidence combats racial bias in the criminal justice system

We have previously written about the problem of wrongful convictions in the United States. Awareness of this problem continues to grow thanks to the work of the Innocence Project and similar groups. Not only is the IP helping to exonerate innocent individuals, it is also providing important data on the most common problems that lead to wrongful convictions in the first place.

One of these problems is racism, which is still a major factor in every aspect of criminal justice from arrest to conviction and sentencing. Thankfully, DNA evidence is free of racial bias and has helped exonerate countless innocent people in recent years.

Last month, DNA evidence helped exonerate an African-American man in Texas. Although he has long since served his sentence, his name has been cleared and he will be compensated for wrongful imprisonment.

The man was living in a motel in Dallas, Texas in 1990. Also living in the motel was a 16-year-old white girl who had been raped by a masked assailant. Although he was innocent, the man pleaded guilty on the advice of his defense attorney. He was a black man accused of raping a white woman. The attorney said his fate would likely be much worse if the case went before a jury.

He served 12 years in prison. After being released, he served another six-month sentence because he failed to register as a sex offender.

One unique aspect of this case is that the man did not know ahead of time that his case was even being reviewed. Evidence in his and other cases was being reviewed by a special “Conviction Integrity Unit” established within the local prosecutor’s office. He had petitioned to have DNA evidence tested around the time of his six-month sentence, but his petitions were denied.

Nothing can compensate for the fact that an innocent individual lost nearly 13 years of his life, not to mention his reputation. But because of his exoneration, he will be eligible to receive $80,000 for each year of wrongful incarceration. Just as importantly, people will now believe what he has been saying all along: That he is innocent.

Source: The Washington Post, "Texas man exonerated through DNA testing he didn’t know was going to happen," Mark Berman, July 25, 2014

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