Monday, May 5, 2008

If you make up the crime, serve the time

Last night's 60 Minutes carried the moving story of the growing number of people sent to prison during the reign of infamous Dallas tough-guy District Attorney Henry Wade who are now being proven innocent and released because of the efforts of the Innocence Project and current DA Craig Watkins. After ten or twenty or more years behind bars without reason, it's remarkable that so many of the wrongly accused have lived long enough to see the light of day again and enjoy at least a modicum of compensation ($50,000 for each year of incarceration, or $100,000 per year if sentenced to death).

The immediate mechanism for the release of these falsely imprisoned Texans has largely been DNA but, in at least some cases, it seems that the original prosecutors deliberately withheld evidence that would have assisted the defense (the Dallas Morning News reports that about half of belated exonerations in the state, and three in Dallas County, involve withheld evidence). That's illegal, but it carries no penalty under law.

DA Watkins wants the power to bring criminal charges against prosecutors who withhold evidence. I think that's appropriate. But what should the penalty be?

Here's an idea: Any prosecutor who withholds exculpatory evidence in a trial, leading to the conviction and imprisonment of an innocent person, should have to serve as many years behind bars as that person did before being exonerated. There should be a minimum sentence, of course, so that any such misconduct carries serious prison time.

Depriving innocent people of their liberty is among the more despicable acts I can imagine.

Unfortunately, Henry Wade himself is immune from prosecution, having gone to Hell in 2001. But some of his staff must still be kicking around.

Labels: ,


Blogger Ayn R. Key said...

The problem with this solution is it still relies upon some DA somewhere actually filing charges. Couple your solution with My Solution and now we're talking.

May 5, 2008 3:15 PM  
Blogger Jehan said...

I like your plan, and it would definitely raise the stakes. Prosecuters would think twice before withholding evidence, but they also might just be more inclined to destroy evidence- perhaps even a person able to testify in favor of the defendent...

May 6, 2008 6:08 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home