According to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, evidence from eyewitnesses is "a unique threat to the fairness of trial." She cited research that found eyewitness misidentifications to be the "single greatest cause" of wrongful convictions in the United States.
"Theophalis Wilson, you are free to go," said a Philadelphia judge recently. She was releasing a man who has been exonerated of the three 1989 killings he was convicted of as a teenager.
Plea bargaining is a bedrock of our criminal justice system. Governments simply don't have the money to take every criminal defendant to trial. They rely on the fact that a large proportion of defendants will opt for a plea deal if it means less prison time.
In 2009, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) issued a blockbuster report challenging the scientific underpinnings of many fields of forensic evidence. The report found that such evidence is rarely supported by rigorous study. Moreover, the analyses are often performed unscientifically, and analysts often overstate the scientific rigor of their evidence during testimony.
A jailhouse informant is rarely someone who just wants to help. Jails and prisons have a strong anti-snitching culture, so passing along information to prosecutors is a choice that could get you in serious trouble. People don't inform on other prisoners to be solid citizens; they do it to get a break on their sentences.
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.
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.
If you've been reading our blog, you know that many common forensic evidence techniques have been called into serious question by scientists. Yet police, prosecutors and judges continue to use or allow these techniques to be used. Sometimes, it seems as if they are used simply because they have been in use for so long. That isn't sound policy.
"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."
Many people have reservations when they hear criminal defendants claim to be innocent even though they pled guilty. Some can't imagine anything that could convince them to plead guilty to a crime they didn't commit.