It's a controversial subject, but we live in a harsh world. Some police officers lie. Some have a documented history of misconduct, including lying or other acts that call their truthfulness into question. If they do, this history should be available to the defense so that the officer's credibility can be tested in court.
In February 2013, a house in the small town of Quincy, Wisconsin, burned nearly to the ground. Its owner was Brenda Jones, a 51-year-old woman with cancer. She was legally disabled and disability insurance was her only source of income. She wasn't home at the time of the fire, which was electrical in origin.
We've discussed on this blog how genealogy databases like GEDmatch warehouse the DNA results of huge numbers of people who have taken part in genetic testing for genealogy purposes.
Once you've been found guilty of a crime, can the government just assert that you're guilty of new crimes without having to prove it to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt?
According to the National Registry of Exonerations' annual report, 151 people were exonerated in the U.S. in 2018. Together, they spent 1,639 years behind bars for crimes they didn't commit -- an average of about 11 years each.
In 1963, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Brady v. Maryland that police and prosecutors are legally bound to turn over so-called "exculpatory" evidence to the defense before trial. Exculpatory evidence is most anything favorable to the defense. It can be evidence that the defendant is innocent, that someone else could be guilty, or that there were mitigating circumstances. Or, it can cast doubt on the reliability of prosecution witnesses.
"Some experts extrapolate far beyond what can be supported," reads a 2009 National Academy of Sciences report about bloodstain pattern analysis. It adds, "The uncertainties associated with bloodstain-pattern analysis are enormous."
In the criminal justice world, there is something we refer to as the "trial penalty." It is a penalty, in the form of a harsher sentence, for anyone who demands a trial and is then found guilty. In almost every case, defendants convicted at trial are sentenced to far longer than people who accept plea bargains.
If you were charged with a misdemeanor, you might decide to plead guilty just to get out of jail and go home. By definition, the penalty for a misdemeanor must be less than a year behind bars, and most people receive far less than that. In many cases, a guilty plea results in no jail time at all.
Imagine how you would feel if you were sent to prison for a crime you didn’t commit. Now, imagine how the victim would feel upon learning the wrong person was put behind bars and the real perpetrator is free.