An editorial in today’s New York Times considers the release last week of Charles Chatman in Dallas and calls for critical reforms nationwide to address and prevent wrongful convictions. Hundreds of innocent people remain behind bars, the editorial says, and the risk of convicting innocents will remain strong until we implement reforms that are proven to improven the accuracy and fairness of the criminal justice system – including reforms to eyewitness identification, interrogation procedures and crime lab oversight.
While DNA evidence has captured the popular imagination, Mr. Chatman’s story — and that of many postconviction exonerations — is also in large part about eyewitness misidentification, the most common factor in wrongful convictions. The Innocence Project has proposed some important reforms that states should use in upgrading their criminal justice system. These include improvements in the use of eyewitness testimony and electronic recording of interrogations.
Better oversight and funding of crime labs is also crucial, along with creation of innocence commissions to manage claims of wrongful conviction. A groundbreaking federal law now grants federal inmates access to DNA testing. Most states and localities are lagging in doing this, and in properly preserving evidence.
Read the full editorial here
. (New York Times, 01/10/08)