Monday, 9 April 2007

Give justice a chance

April 9, 2007


Give justice a chance

By Abby Burns, The Stanford Daily, Op-Ed

William Blackstone said of the justice system that it would be "[b]etter
that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer." Yet many
people do suffer: since 1973, over 230 innocent individuals in the United
States have been wrongfully convicted of crimes for which they were
subsequently cleared - proof that our criminal justice system is far from
perfect. What this says to me is that there are flaws in our criminal
justice system that need to be - and, perhaps more importantly, can be -

Nick Yarris can tell you about flaws in the system. Yarris spent 22 years on
Pennsylvania's death row for the murder of Linda Mae Craig.

During his trial, detectives manipulated witnesses into falsely identifying Yarris and

prosecutors attempted to destroy evidence that could be used to prove
Yarris' innocence. After his conviction, Yarris would spend fifteen years
appealing for DNA evidence to be tested - the same DNA evidence that would
finally and conclusively prove his innocence in 2003.

Common sense would say that this would be the end of Yarris' ordeal - common
sense would be too much to hope for with the Delaware County District
Attorney's Office. Yarris was released eight months later "nolle prosequi" -
meaning that the DA's office could arrest and retry him on this same charge
at a later date. Further, despite actually being innocent of this crime,
Yarris is still subject to the "three strikes law:" if he is ever convicted
of another crime, he will be put away for life - despite that he was
innocent of those felonies that would qualify him for life in prison in the
first place.

Yarris' story demonstrates not only how our criminal justice system is
flawed, but, more powerfully, suggests solutions for how to improve it:

(1)Efficiently test DNA evidence. Yarris spent over a decade on death row
after technology existed that could prove his innocence. Especially for a
death row case, let there be no doubt about the guilt or innocence of the

(2)Improve post-release compensation for exonerees. Exonerees receive less
help than a post-release guilty inmate, who likely receives assistance with
job training, psychological counseling, and other reintegration services.
Currently, a few prisons give "gate money," ranging from $10 to $200, to
exonerees for immediate needs and nothing more.

(3)Automatically expunge the criminal records of released defendants. It can
be years before an exoneree's criminal record is finally cleared - years in
which the record prevents the innocent individual from securing gainful

Yarris is just one man, but his story is important to us all. We will all -
in some way - be touched by the criminal justice system. Whether as a
defendant ourselves, as a family member or friend of someone who is arrested
for a crime, as a criminal lawyer, or as a jury member, we all have a stake
in the improvement of our criminal justice system. But don't take our word
for this - let Nick Yarris tell you about his story and the importance of
fixing our criminal justice system. Stanford Beyond Bars has invited him to
speak at Cubberley Auditorium tomorrow at7 p.m.


Source : The Stanford Daily, Op-Ed (Abby Burns writes on behalf of the
Stanford Beyond Bars Executive Board. Stanford Beyond Bars is an
undergraduate student organization dedicated to directly addressing issues
related to incarceration and the criminal justice system.)

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