the case for innocence
homefour casesspeaking outsystem failurethe dna
jury box
a total system failure?

The Government Responds
Convicted By Juries, Exonerated by Science

In 1995, Attorney General Janet Reno ordered the Department of Justice to report to her on a phenomenon becoming troublingly familiar: persons initially convicted and imprisoned, who were later released through postconviction DNA testing. The resulting study, Convicted by Juries, Exonerated by Science was released in June of 1996. The report identified and described 28 cases in which DNA evidence proved that the convicted persons could not have committed the crimes for which they had been convicted and imprisoned.
Testing: Recommendations for Handling

In response to the findings detailed in Convicted by Juries, Exonerated by Science, the Department of Justice established the "National Commission on the Future of DNA Evidence" in order to "maximize the value of DNA in our criminal justice system." This first report of the Commission acknowledges respect for the value of finality in the criminal justice system, while strongly encouraging "the pursuit of truth." The report suggests that the taking up of claims of actual innocence (demonstrated by DNA evidence) should be valued over mechanical adherence to time limits on appeals, or other procedural and institutional bars to justice. The report makes detailed recommendations for defense counsel, prosecutors, judges, and forensic laboratories, as well as reviewing the legal and biological issues that arise in postconviction DNA testing.
How did another country respond to DNA?

In January of 1995, Guy Paul Morin, a Toronto man convicted of murdering a nine-year-old girl some ten years earlier, was acquitted of the charge based on new DNA evidence that showed he could not have committed the crime. Ontario officials quickly moved to establish a commission with a wide mandate to review the specifics of the case, as well as the general effects of DNA evidence on the administration of justice in Canada. Public hearings began in February of 1997 and continued for 146 days. The final report numbered some 1,400 pages and made extensive recommendations for reforming the Canadian criminal justice system in light of the DNA revolution.

Lost Lives:  Miscarriages of Justice in Capital Cases

Capital convictions of innocent defendants are not rare "diconnected accidents," as some still attempt to maintain in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary, according to professor Samuel Gross. To the contrary, Gross concludes, "the steady stream of errors we see. . . is a predictable consequence of our system of investigating and prosecuting capital murder." The errors that we uncover in particular cases where innocence is discovered should "advertise the existence of others that we have missed," but often all that is done is to stop the execution and release the prisioner with no further inquiry. In this 1998 law review article, professor Gross rigorously pursues the question at the center of the capital punishment debate that others put off: "Why are innocent people regularly sentenced to death?"
The Execution of the Innocent

For more than three decades, professor Hugo Adam Bedau has pursued the question of miscarriages of justice in capital cases in the United States, publishing inventories of such cases dating from the late-nineteenth century. In the 1980s, professor Bedau teamed with professor Michael Radelet; the research of Bedau and Radelet now informs almost every serious debate on the topic. In this law review article, Bedau and Radelet draw on their past research and case inventories to inform a discussion concept of "innocence," the sorts of evidence on which innocence claims are often based, and how all of this plays into official and public understanding and debate about the death penalty.
The wrong men on death row

Public support for the death penalty seems based on an underlying assumption that only the guilty are executed -- an assumption that is facing serious challenge from rising numbers of exonerations in captial cases based on new DNA evidence. This US. News and World Report feature reconsiders the death penalty debate in light of rising numbers of wrongful convictions.
The Wrong Man

In this extensive report for the Atlantic Monthly, journalist Alan Berlow considers the "horrifyingly likely" prospect that innocent people will be executed in America. Berlow relates case histories, reviews the latest statistics and government reports, records the doubts about the death penalty of former prosecutors, judges, and prison officials, offers a diagnosis of the problem, and proposes several remedies.

Tough luck for the Innocent Man

As more prisoners are exonerated by DNA evidence, some are filing claims for their lost years in prison--what are their lives worth? Not very much, according to this 1999 report published by the American Bar Association Journal. "The majority either get nothing or scrape and claw for merely a token sum. . ."
State Indemnity
for Errors of Criminal Justice

"It seems strange that so little attention has been given to one of the most flagrant of all publicly imposed wrongs -- the plight of the innocent victim of unjust conviction in criminal cases." These words, written in 1932 by Yale law professor Edwin M. Borchard, retain a disappointingly contemporary ring. Even the amounts of money paid by states to wrongly convicted persons -- from $5,000 to $10,000 -- have not changed much from Borchard's time.

home · cases · speaking out · total system failure? · how far will it go? · video · discussion
interviews · synopsis · tapes & transcripts · press

New Content Copyright ©2000 PBS Online and WGBH/FRONTLINE