Imagine being charged, convicted, and serving years in prison for a crime you did not commit. As I have documented, this happens more than anyone cares to think about. With the advent of DNA evidence analysis, hundreds of individuals have been freed from prison based on DNA testing that proved their innocence; some of these exonerated individuals were on death row. How many people have been executed over the years for a crime they did not commit? We don’t know, but it is certainly more than a few. Some may argue that in an imperfect system, it is better to occasionally make the mistake of convicting an innocent person than to let the guilty go free. I challenge anyone with that perspective to honestly consider whether they would still believe that if the wrongly convicted innocent person was themselves or a member of their family. (And, besides if you convict an innocent person, then the actual perpetrator IS allowed to go free.)
DNA exonerations aside, what about persons who are convicted based on shoddy forensic evidence, questionable science, or dubious expert testimony. Many people are unaware that it is not unusual for a person to be convicted solely on the testimony of an expert. Case in point: This month a man who had served 25 years on California’s death row was freed after his conviction for the rape and killing of his girlfriend’s 2-year-old daughter. Pretty horrific crime. However, the man, who is now 68 years old, was convicted on false medical testimony according to the California Supreme Court.
At the trial, a forensic pathologist and numerous medical doctors testified that the child died as a result of sexual assault. What makes this particularly shocking is that years later, many of the doctors who testified, recanted. Turns out they had not actually reviewed the full medical records of the child, which would have informed these experts that their testimony was false. The records admitting the child to the hospital, which incredibly, the testifying experts had not reviewed, did not reveal any sexual assault. The evidence the experts testified to was actually a result of medical interventions at the hospital. This is truly egregious behavior on the part of these testifying experts. What expert would put a person’s life and freedom on the line so carelessly? We expect more from professionals but the reality is, these professionals are often paid a handsome sum to testify. I am not accusing the particular experts for carelessness in favor of personal benefit, but our justice system should deal with the fact that some testifying experts are in it for the money and will skew the testimony to the paying side, be it the prosecution or the defense.