Friday, June 19, 2009

The truth is...........

Regarding the recent Supreme Court ruling that there is no constitutional right to test biological evidence use at a trial before DNA testing was available.

There are two things at play here, the process and the outcome, and unfortunately both are given equal weight by lawyers and prosecutors. It is not hard to understand why, really when you think about it. What is the outcome - or objective - of a trail – to establish guilt or innocence, which in effect is to establish the truth about a situation. But truth can be elusive, hidden, disguised - which makes the outcome always suspect – is it really a true statement of what took place? Because there is doubt to the truth from the perspective out the person(s) responsible for the outcome, we put into the decision the word “reasonable.”

So what is “reasonable” and how does that even come close to what is the truth? It can’t and therein lies the flaw with the system. We cannot have doubt when we condemn or exonerate a person, it would never lead to closure, so we instead focus on the process that leads to the decision. It is here where the waters turn muddy for the process is least important to the truth. That is the truth is the truth, the process has no bearing on the truth, that is the two are independent of one another.

There are four, and only four possible outcomes from a trial when guilt is assessed.
  • You can be found guilty and the truth is you are guilty
  • You can be found guilty and the truth is you are not guilty
  • You can be found not guilty and the truth is you are guilty
  • You can be found not guilty and the truth is you are not guilty
Only two of the four have an outcome that is true. Yet in all four cases, if the process that leads to the outcome was fair, then justice was done. However, in two of the outcomes the truth was not reached. To be found not-guilty when you are guilty might be seen as a failure of the system, however, to be found guilty when you are innocent is a travesty especially when a long jail term or the death penalty is the punishment.

For Oklahoma, Massachusetts, and Alaska to legally deny access to DNA evidence that might exonerate a wrongly accused person is upsetting, especially in light of the 240 people who have used it to overturn their convictions is distressing. For the Supreme Court to uphold the right to deny access to this evidence is disappointing. I understand the argument about state’s rights, however, the argument made by Chief Roberts, and the same one I have seen used by prosecutors to deny access to evidence after conviction, is in support of the process at the expense of the individual - that new technology that was not available at trial should not throw fairly won convictions into doubt.
“The dilemma is how to harness DNA’s power to prove innocence without unnecessarily overthrowing the established system of criminal justice”
In other words it’s the process that must be preserved.

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