In the June issue of Reason Magazine, Editor Radley Balko interviews Craig Watkins, the Dallas District Attorney who gained national attention in 2007 through his role in the release of several people wrongfully convicted by his predecessors. Watkins says the Dallas DA’s office operated too long on a “convict at all costs” philosophy, and he is working to change the office from one that is “tough on crime” to one that is “smart on crime.”
Among other projects, Watkins started a Conviction Integrity Unit in his office, which played a key role in the recent release of James Woodard after 27 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.
Q: You’re critical of the mind-set of winning convictions at all costs. The legendary law-and-order Dallas prosecutor Henry Wade, who for 35 years held the job you now hold, embodied that philosophy. He’s alleged even to have boasted about convicting innocent people—that putting an innocent man in jail proved his prowess as a prosecutor.
A: It was a badge of honor at the time to knowingly convict someone that wasn’t guilty. It’s widely known among defense attorneys and prosecutors from that era. We had to clean out all the remnants of that older way of thinking.
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. (Reason, June 2008)