Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Beyond a reasonable doubt

Of the first seventy falsely-convicted Americans who were exonerated by DNA evidence (unclear if this refers only to North Carolina, but the numbers are high enough that it is likely the whole country), sixty-one were convicted, at least in part, on the basis of mistaken eyewitness identification (see also here, but I note that this site, which I found via this thread in the Zodiackiller discussion board, would be improved if they cited their sources; see also here and here and pp. 20-22 of the pdf here). Considering that coroners and forensic examiners often lie to make their police friends happy (and are sometimes caught), fabric evidence is suspect, state appointed lawyers are often incompetent or in a hurry, plea bargains are often forced on defendants who don't understand what is going on, confessions are obtained through various forms of coercion, jailhouse informants are spectacularly unreliable (here is a long analysis of the problems in pdf format from a commission investigating a case of wrongful conviction in Ontario), ballistic evidence has been impugned (see also here), and even fingerprint evidence has been questioned as being largely subjective (on fingerprints, see here and here and here and here and here and here, not to mention ear prints and bitemarks and knifemarks!), one has to question whether there is ever enough evidence to really prove that a crime has been committed beyond a reasonable doubt. The entire criminal justice system appears to be an elaborate charade, where police pick up 'bad guys' who may or may not have done the crime but often accept their fate as punishment for other crimes for which they haven't been caught. Occasionally an innocent person with the massive amounts of money required for lawyers and forensic experts fights the wrongful arrest, and sometimes reveals the tip of the iceberg of all the crap that is commonly accepted as evidence.