Monday, March 21, 2016

Prosecutors should be required to share information with defense to prevent wrongful convictions

On both my Movies blog and TV blog, I’ve reviewed a number of documentaries about wrongful convictions, with some mention of the Innocence Project.  For example, on Jan. 22 I reviewed Andrew Jenks’s film “Dream / Killer” about the Ryan Ferguson case in Missouri, and yesterday I reviewed a Dateline segment about a questionable and now overturned conviction of an author in North Carolina.  I’m reminded of gratuitous prosecutions of the past, like against lacrosse players, also in North Carolina.

One problem is that prosecutors sometimes withhold evidence from the defense, even if illegally according to the laws or criminal procedures of many states.  (Virginia is one of the states with safer procedures.)   The Washington Post has an editorial Monday morning “Getting prosecutors to share what they know,” about inadequate protections in the federal system, and about a new rule, supported by the GOP in Congress, that would at least apply now in the District of Columbia.

The government says it needs to withhold information in certain kinds of situations involving terrorism and particularly witness protection (the film "Family in Hiding"). The idea of becoming someone else to stay alive is anathema to me (like the Molly Norris case).

 Along these lines, it’s well to look at the front page article “In Louisiana, the poor lack legal defense” by Campbell Robertson in the New York Times Sunday May 20.

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