Andrew Cohen, this year’s Innocence Network Journalism Award Winner, wrote about innocence advocacy efforts in his Exoneration Nation column, Friday. Cohen was given the award at the Innocence Network Conference in Portland, OR, which was attended by more than 100 wrongly convicted men and women and as well as Innocence Network staffers.
Cohen, who is a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law and a national correspondent and contributing editor for legal affairs for The Atlantic, was honored for his four part series “A Ghost of Mississippi,” which appeared in The Atlantic in May 2013. The series captured the many deep-seated issues surrounding wrongful convictions while following the tenuous story of Willie Manning and his eleventh hour stay of execution.
In his column, Cohen recounts opening remarks by Portland’s Chief of Police Mike Reese who spoke of the huge task of ensuring the accuracy of convictions by making sure the criminal justice system is doing its job. Cohen writes:
This is such a basic premise behind all of the work of noble exonerators in this country — wrongful convictions prevent us from getting to the essential truths about a particular crime — yet it so often is lost in the polemic and often emotional noise that surrounds the conversation we have with one another about our criminal justice systems. The men and women who fight for the wrongfully accused often are accused themselves of subverting justice by seeking to overturn the results of flawed convictions. Because the message is unpleasant — hey, judge, prosecutor, witness, cop, you erred and an innocent person is paying the price—the messenger is decried.
What Chief Reese is saying, I think, is that we should all be focused on making sure that the guilty are convicted and that the innocent are exonerated. That we should all be brave and candid enough to acknowledge the mistakes that are made at trial, and to timely rectify them, so that innocent men and women do not languish in jail. And that we should do these things, every day in every case, not just because we tell our children that this is how the justice system works, or because we declare to the world that our laws are just and fair, but also because it’s the right thing to do. It’s the moral thing to do.