Burden of InnocenceFRONTLINE
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photo of a prisoner in cuffsJoin the Discussion: Share your reactions to the stories of these wrongly imprisoned men. What light do they shed on our criminal justice system?

Dear FRONTLINE,

Bravo for another well made documentary. Hopefully people will start to see the problems and do somthing about it.

It is

a Disgrace that innocent people can be held for years and then released with no help whatever. There must be some method that can hold prosecutors and cops responsible for thier errors. Until that happens it will contiue to be business as usual.

new york, new york

Dear FRONTLINE,

Your program had a tremendous effect on me. It truly is scary to think that all one has to do is be in the wrong place at the wrong time. What Barry Scheck suggested, of the system having a valued interest in keeping things "business as usual" is even more terrifying! It's because of shows like this that I know there is a God.

Man certainly at varied times throughout history has had to be saved from himself, no matter how advanced or technology brilliant he has become. Great work Frontline, in bringing this to the forefront.

Charles Hunter
Philadelphia, Pa

Dear FRONTLINE,

I watched your show and it confirmed what I have known for a long time. A lot of our DA's, Judges, and other law enforcement are actually the criminals. They use fear, deception and witholding of evidence to get convictions. In this country people used to be INNOCENT until PROVEN guilty. What has happened. People are treated as if they are guilty from the beginning.

Look at Robert Blake & Scott Peterson. Whether they committed a crime or not they should not be encarcerated for years waiting on the DA to build or create a case against them. Are there any agencies or groups to help people who have been wrongfully accused and convicted. I would like to know.

William Bailey
Lewisville, Texas

FRONTLINE's editors respond:

Go to the Frequently Asked Questions section of this web site for information on organizations helping the wrongfully convicted.

Dear FRONTLINE,

I want to thank you for presenting "The Burden of Innocense", it was excellent. I have to say also very emotional, I probably shed a few tears once or twice. I bow down to these very brave and innocent men for what they have been through, and wish them the best in "what is left" of their life. This show lets you take a look on how injustice the humane society can be towards each other, without giving us "the right to a fair trial".

Giselle Gonzalez
Miramar, Florida

Dear FRONTLINE,

As one of your subjects commented, instead of allowing ten guilty to go free in order to avoid punishing one innocent, the system has, on occassion, been subverted. Its appalling to think that even the most ambitious prosecuting attorney, or policeman would knowingly send an innocent person to prison.

I can only believe that on most of these occassions, the certianty of guilt on the part of prosecutors, can be as strong as those of innocence on the part of defendors. Human nature dictates that we fight hard for what we believe in, and are sometimes blinded by the facts, especially if they don't coincide with those convictions.

The reality that innocent people are convicted, of a wide array of crimes, can hardly be disputed. Unfortunate, as it may be, there is the eventual possibility of justice prevailing. The one glaring exception is the death penalty.

It is wrong for this country to continue to allow capital punishment, when there is the slightest possibillity that even one innocent could end up with this most final of judgements.

Rick Davies
West Linn, Oregon

Dear FRONTLINE,

Excellent program.

Heart wrenching and frustruating to know that at the same time the President is used the value of freedom to legitimize an attack on Iraq, men, right here in the United States, are losing their freedom illegimately.

And the refusal, for many states to disallow compensation to these men, for their loss of freedom, after they have been exonerated, makes one wonder whether our society truly values freedom. Or, merely values money.

Annonymous Annonymous
Tucson, Arizona

Dear FRONTLINE,

I would like to know what affect this all has on the people that were on the juries of these wrongly imprisoned men. What do they feel after they find that they were responsible for such injustice? Do they also suffer from guilt? Do they suffer from feeling misled by the system? Or do they deny any fault? I am sure it is different for each jurier, but it would interesting to know. I would also like to know what the victims feel when they discover that the person they misidentified was wrongly convicted. Do they stick by their identification even in the face of overwhelming evidence? Do they relive the crime? Are they angry that they probably let the perpetrator get away by fingering the wrong guy? Do they ever feel guilt?

Anthony Mendoza
Portland, OR

Dear FRONTLINE,

Being wrongfully accused is one of the greatest hurts in life - the corollary of the sin, thou shall not bear false witness. Being wrongfully convicted and incarcerated has to cause major and permanent shock to both the brain and heart. Great program, but you are only scratching the surface of the depravity in our legal/justice system, a system routinely called "the best legal system in the world". The fundamental cause of these horrors was stated by attorney Barry Sheck - immunity - it fosters irresponsibility and corruption from the top the judges to the bottom the cops and in between the prosecutors. Holding these individuals responsible for their conduct is the only answer to solving this and almost all other problems of conduct.

I am an attorney who has been wrongfully accused and retaliated against, in 3 trials by 3 different judges. It has irreparably damaged my life. I cried watching your program and identified with the helplessness, numbness and fear these poor men suffered and continue to suffer. Judges more than any group sit at the pinnacle of power in our society and they unconstitutionally grabbed absolute immunity for themselves for even their corrupt and malicious judicial acts Bradely v. Fisher. To solve this problem of irresponsible conduct we have to take absolute immunity away from judges and hold them accountable. When that occurs, we will be amazed at how the rest of the people in the system will snap in line, be responsible and thus eliminate many, many of these wrongful accusations and convictions.

Gary Zerman
Valencia, California

Dear FRONTLINE,

Thank you for producing and showing Burden of Innocence. It was truly a moving documentary.

During the show I started thinking about men and women who are wrongfully convicted of crimes, e.g., robbery or drug offenses, where DNA is simply not a part of the forensic evidence or a relevant factor in clearing them. Another whole group of prisoners exist due to misrepresented or fictional facts in search warrant affidavits, these men and women then get caught up in the system and are ultimately incarcerated. These two types of gray line convictions and prisoners are never addressed by public service or pro bono legal groups nor redressed by the system. If they are they certainly never get media attention.

Finally, as someone whose life was shattered by 18 months of imprisonment jail and in San Quentin, the first time ever in trouble with the law in 59 years, I feel the same trauma, stress and humiliation every day, and suffer from the same work-place rejections the exonerated men you portrayed expressed. I too think of suicide frequently.

Sincerely

Jerry Pollister

Jerry Pollister
Santa Rosa, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,

it's hard to put any thoughts or feelings to words after watching a show like this...............one can only surmise that the justice system consoles itself in being right..... when it is confronted with the image of itself as a fruit rotten before ripe..........

michael pigneguy
los angeles, california

Dear FRONTLINE,

I am a correctional student in Canada and I found your program very informative, but also very discouraging. Having been educated in the Canadian philosophy of restorative justice, I find it difficult to understand how the American criminal justice system can fail to see the correction of offenders as a two-pronged responsibility. The protection of the public - which the departments of corrections in the United States are very good at providing - as well as the rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders back into mainstream society. The maintenance of these dual responsibilities become all the more imperative when dealing with convicts who have served time for crimes they have not committed. The judicial aspect of the criminal justice system has already failed the individual, but if corrections can provide an environment and programs more conducive to becoming a productive, law-abiding member of society, recidivism can and will be reduced.

In addition, those wrongfully accused, though they have no legal recourse for obtaining compensation for their suffering, can at least be reintegrated as an adequately functioning person with the cognitive, interpersonal, and life skills stripped away from them through the process of institutionalization through restorative methods of correction. The restoration of social skills worn away through the rigours of prison life is a poor substitute for the irreplacable loss of time and a life they might have lived, but it is certainly more than is being done now in states such as Massachussetts and Oklahoma.

Perhaps coping with their experiences would be made easier were a more supportive, restorative philosophy employed in the United States. Some may argue that it is the only system we have, but one could rebut that, indeed, it does not have to be.

C. Shawn Sapriken
Edmonton, Alberta

Dear FRONTLINE,

I don't understand why the states have to enact legislation giving exonerated prisoners the, "right" to sue for damages. Doesn't everyone have that right? If everyone does not have that right, then they should have it. I would think that the bill of rights in the constitution would guarantee everyone equal rights under the law.

If I am wronged by an individual, corporation, group, or government, state or federal I should have the right to sue the entity that did me damage for damages. No special separate law should be necessary.....We the people should be able to sue HMO's and the court system for damages with equal impunity. Why is this not so? Have we given up this right too?

William E. Graham
Salem, Oregon

Dear FRONTLINE,

Your report was very timely, and hopefully will bring results. I wanted to add a personal experience.

30 years ago my husband since divorced, a law school graduate waiting to pass his Bar Exam, was arrested amd accused of having been a major heroin dealer 5 years earlier. We didn't even live in New Mexico then, had never even been around Heroin, and were dumbfounded. For the next six months, our lives became a living hell, watching friends pull away, and trying to prove his innocence. Luckily we had a very good witness and alibi for the day in question, and the case was finally thrown out, but not before we realized that, for the little guy particularly if you were a member of a minority you were presumed guilty, and had to prove your innocence.

The financial expense was a real hardship, but the emotional cost was beyond belief. The only way to describe it is that it is a grieving process, in this case, of lost innocence, and disillusionment with the system. I became bitter and intensely suicidal for two years; my husband grieved in his own way, and we grew apart. The anger and pain was intense. It took years to heal, and get on with our lives.

If this was the reaction of just the fear, and knowing that your innocence wasn't enough in this "...Nation under God..." I can't even imagine the level of pain these people you have described maust feel. What about their families; their children---all have to deal with the stigma and shame, let alone the financial devistation that they go through. To this day, the memories and anger rise up if I let it. No one says "I'm sorry" you are just expected to get over it. Thank you for showing that it doesn't conveniently go away. I learned to put my experience to work in helping others. I hope more people will be able to impact our very faulty system and rectify these injustices. thank you

Albuquerque, NM

Dear FRONTLINE,

This was a powerful film, thank-you and I hope to see many more on this nations problems with the race to incarcerate and lengthy sentences.Please do more films on this and related subjects,as the general public thinks all convicted individuals are quilty.

I am very concerned about this subject, and personally know an innocent person who is incarcerated waiting for an appeal...

In Oklahoma, one in every one hundred and forty-six individuals are either in jail or prison, plus Oklahoma's execution rate is one of the highests in the nation. Within the last 3 months, the Okla. County Jail alone had eight prisoners waiting to go to DOC to death row.

Aproximately forty percent of the inmate in Oklahoma have a mental illness.

Oklahoma has had terrible problems in recent years with the forensic lab, and thank God some of the wrongly convicted have been exonerated. My fear is, many individuals in Oklahoma prisons and jails are innocent, Oklahoma is tough on mentally ill, homeless,and chemical dependent individuals, they call it tough on crime. .

Prosecutors have no boundries or ramifications for there actions. Malicious prosecution continues, nothing happens and innocent people continue to go to jail,prison or be put to death.

Tricia Smith
oklahoma city, Oklahhoma

Dear FRONTLINE,

I was "wrongfully convicted" on a relatively minor charge. The police lied, the prosecutor lied, the "victim" lied. I have never been the same, though I only served 90 days in jail. I got tough. I got pissed. And most importantly, I now have ZERO faith in the American [In]Justice system and even less faith in the rationality of the system or of individual people juries are like stupid, scared children who are sucked into whatever story the prosecutor presents, believing that if someone is arrested he or she must have done SOMETHING even if there is NO evidence of THIS something.

Nevertheless, even I, who am surprised by nothing, cried with the men you presented on Frontline. Thank you for doing the show. And I'd like to say to all the people who work with the Innocence Project, you are the hope of the country; you are the saving grace of the legal system; you are the heart and soul of the phrase "good works."

By the way -- forcing names and addresses to send this email probably skewed the percieved response to your story.

Raliegh, North Carolina

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posted may 1, 2003

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