In its lead editorial today, South Carolina’s largest and most influential paper, The State, urged the legislature to pass a bill that would provide access to post-conviction DNA testing for people convicted of violent crimes.
Under current law, there’s no mechanism for such testing; in most cases, judges can’t order DNA testing — or do anything about it if such testing is somehow done and demonstrates the convict’s innocence — unless the solicitor agrees to the request.
That wouldn’t be a problem in an ideal world, because the job of prosecutors is to do justice, and so they would be just as anxious as anyone to make sure the wrong person isn’t in prison. The reality is different. Prosecutors are human and dislike admitting their mistakes; and besides, they grow cynical from hearing the inevitable claims of innocence from criminals who really aren’t innocent, so with rare exceptions, they fight tooth and nail against those claims.
The Senate bill (S.429) passed last month and is headed to the House. It would make South Carolina the 44th state with a law on the books explicitly granting post-conviction DNA testing . In March, Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck told lawmakers that access to DNA testing is a vital right for prisoners.
And The State agrees that denying that right can harm all of us.
When the wrong person is convicted of a crime, the only clear winner is the actual criminal — although police and prosecutors might appear to be winners, since they were able to score a conviction. The person wrongly convicted certainly doesn’t win, and in fact we do incomprehensibly grave harm to that person. Neither do the rest of us, who are less safe because the real criminal remains free to harm others.
Read the editorial.
(The State, 5/13/08)