Wednesday, 28 February 2007

Editorial: Cases illustrate need for innocence project

Editorial: Cases illustrate need for innocence project

Web Posted: 02/27/2007 06:14 PM CST
San Antonio Express-News
No system is fail-proof.

The increasing number of wrongful convictions being uncovered in Texas indicates flaws in the state's criminal justice system.

During the past few years, two dozen Texas men have been exonerated by DNA testing. Twelve of them were prosecuted in Dallas.

The statistics are scary, and the situation is unconscionable.

It is time for the state to invest the resources and effort necessary to review questionable convictions by creating an innocence commission.

It is not enough to release those prisoners who have been exonerated, offer them monetary compensation and wish them a good life.

Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, and Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, have introduced legislation to create such a commission.

Previous attempts have met with stiff resistance. The efforts resulted in the formation of the governor's Criminal Justice Advisory Council, but its aim is to review the system, not individual cases.

The Legislature also has funded innocence clinics at Texas law schools, but those are not the innocence commission Thompson and Ellis seek.

According to the New York-based Innocence Project, a nonprofit legal clinic and criminal justice resource center, 185 people in 32 states have been cleared of their convictions through DNA testing.

California, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Illinois and North Carolina have established innocence commissions in recent years as a result of the attention those cases have focused on the impact that new and improved DNA testing can have on criminal convictions.

Instead of worrying that this might be an attempt to make an end run on the death penalty, opponents to the creation of an innocence commission should focus on the need to ensure innocent people are not locked up unjustly.

There are flaws in our criminal justice system; the exoneration of 24 convicted felons proves that.

Ignoring the problem won't make it go away.

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