Tuesday, April 8th, 2008

Interesting comment from someone claiming to be a prosecutor in this Volokh discussion about my interview with Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins:

These “innocence projects” are a colossal waste of money, if you actually examine some of these supposed “exonerations” they turn out to be nothing of the kind. I agree that if convincing evidence of the accused’s innocense [sic] falls into a DA’s lap, he has obligations to do something about it. Where I would likely disagree with this Watkins guy is what constitutes evidence of innocence that is sufficiently substantive to merit looking into it. We all know that genuinely innocent defendants, let alone genuinely innocent *convicts*, are rare birds. For every “one-armed man” who really exists there are a million cock-n-bull stories pitched by guilty-as-hell defendants to their attorneys, jailors, and anybody who will listen to them.

Good at least to know that kind of attitude is out there, regrettable as it may be.

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28 Responses to “Hmm…”

  1. #1 |  B | 

    Rather telling that a prosecutor cannot spell “innocence”, no?

  2. #2 |  Nobody | 

    I would think that anyone exonerated, freed from prison, or prevented from suffering the death penalty would disagree with Innocence Projects being a waste of resources.

  3. #3 |  Michael Pack | 

    Wait,did this guy really say they only arrest the guilty?That how I hear it.

  4. #4 |  ClubMedSux | 

    Ineloquent as he may be, he’s correct in pointing out that there’s a cost-benefit analysis to be made in determining how much energy we want to expend on behalf of the allegedly wrongfully convicted. Hell, he may be right that “[f]or every ‘one-armed man’ who really exists there are a million cock-n-bull stories pitched by guilty-as-hell defendants to their attorneys, jailors, and anybody who will listen to them.” However, the Innocence Project and Northwestern’s Center on Wrongful Convictions [disclosure: I worked there one summer] both make pretty compelling arguments that there are plenty of wrongfully convicted folks sitting in jail right now. While I can’t put a price tag on one’s freedom, I think most would agree the exonerations justify the costs. If you truly feel that the resources are too great for the results, you’re going to have to do better to convince me than posting a typo-riddled comment on the internet.

  5. #5 |  colson | 

    Except the lawyer is a moron. Watkins and the Innocence Project know there are people all working to game the system from the inside. And this is why they are pursuing cases where there is DNA (IP) or a substantial question of guilt/innocence or prosecutor misconduct (Watkins). Did this “prosecutor” not read anything at all?

    IP is going for the sure-win. Watkins has to determine the facts and re-assess each case. Unfortunately I think we found where all of the “Law and Order” attorneys go – they go prosecute!

  6. #6 |  Andrew Williams | 

    Why the f*** is it *good* that such a crappy, cynical attitude is out there? If this “prosecutor” feels that way s/he should resign and let a more objective, less jaded person do it. Why the f*** should anybody put up with such BS?

  7. #7 |  Psion | 

    It’s good to know in the same sense that it’s good to know there are cooks who don’t wash their hands before they prepare food. It’s confirmation of a suspicion that can be pointed to in a debate to say, “See? I’m not paranoid, there really are jerks like that in a position of authority.”

  8. #8 |  Salvo | 

    Contrary to the prosecutors assertions that it’s a 1 in one million chance, the actually rate of false incarceration seems to be, if you believe Scalia, something like .3, or if you live in the real world, around 1%.

    This is an area where just mentioning the percentages is misleading. Even if it’s as low as .3, we’re talking hundreds of thousands who shouldn’t be in jail.

    So, a prosecutor is willingly keeping the wool pulled over his eyes and not seeing the big picture. This is surprising because…..?

  9. #9 |  Blue | 

    I have a IQ of 135ish and have a difficult time speling my words sometimes. :0

    What’s troubling is the guy’s phrase “genuinely innocent.” There is a school of thought in America that if an individual is falsely accused of a crime, but does have a criminal past, or had a certain plant in his pocket or was committing another crime at the time of his arrest, then the nature of the evidence isn’t important. He’s a criminal and must go to jail, even if he’s innocent of the charge he’s prosecuted on.

    What the “law-and-order” types really want is “character prisons,” where they can toss unsavory individuals without having to produce a victim or any other evidence. My mom, clueless has she is, thinks that people, mainly drug addicts, should be pro-actively imprisoned to protect the public. The phrase “rule of law” is now cliché, an homage to the moral pretense of older generation.

  10. #10 |  Burdell | 

    Radley, or anyone else who’s had dealings with Innocence Projects:

    What is the rejection rate? That is, how many cases does the average Innocence Project receive every year that it concludes isn’t worth pursuing?

    I seem to remember reading that it is substantial. Which would blow a major hole in this guy’s theory, since it means resources aren’t being wasted on the “genuinely guilty,” and focuses them on cases where there is at least some doubt.

  11. #11 |  Radley Balko | 

    Burdell —

    Yeah, they tend to only take slam-dunk cases–a small percentage of the applications they receive, and generally cases for which some sort of definitive test can prove innocence — like DNA.

  12. #12 |  Radley Balko | 

    I should add that my post above isn’t a criticism.

    They of course have limited resources, and so have to choose their cases carefully.

  13. #13 |  Alex | 

    cjwhines proceeds to get owned pretty badley in the rest of that discussion. Someone did bring up a good counterpoint though:

    On a completely unrelated note, this story is just awesome. Especially for someone who hates everything New York.

  14. #14 |  Lee | 

    If you consider how many false police reports are filed (grouped by the filer or police that falsified info, and to what degree things were false), I think you’d see a HUGE percentage. Then track each report to whether there was a payout, a conviction, an acquittal, or a dismissal of charges.

    There are a LOT of people that are wrongly accused, far more than wrongly convicted. The latter is worse, and is likely bigger than we know, especially for crimes where there is no DNA.

    All jurors should find people innocent if there is not tangible evidence. If it’s all statements, then all it takes is getting multiple people to tell the same lie to say “look there are 5 people saying this happened, so it must have, even though there is no proof!”

  15. #15 |  Burdell | 

    Thanks, Radley. That confirms what I thought.

  16. #16 |  someone | 

    I would offer Nifong as a counter example:
    of course, I’m sure the prosecutor has a very good explanation of why Nifong was “wrongly convicted in the court of public opinion” and therefore why the Duke Lacrosse team should be in jail. Prosecutors never have any agenda other than that of justice.

  17. #17 |  colson | 

    Alex – the Avery case isn’t a counterpoint. At all. I do not mean to demean the victims in the case, but the assumption attempts to lead you to believe that he was dangerous then and his incarceration was justified for future events that had yet to come to fruition. If this “counterpoint” is the basis for law, it is justification to not ever let a prisoner out of jail.

    The better question is whether Avery’s misspent time in jail was a factor in the later actions which landed him back in prison.

  18. #18 |  adam | 

    May this moron (prosecutor) be railroaded.

  19. #19 |  annemg | 

    Many of the people I have met who are or want to be in law enforcement seem to have this “us vs. them” attitude. Have you every been taken into custody, or been to criminal court over something? You’re one of “them”, and your rights don’t matter anymore, nor should you have any. I want to invent a wiffle bat with the Bill of Rights printed on it. I think it would work. :)

  20. #20 |  annemg | 

    Ever, not every. Typing too fast. And by law enforcement, I mean DAs and police and such.

  21. #21 |  Brad Warbiany | 

    One question…

    Doesn’t the Innocence Project (and other similar organizations) get its funding from private sources?

    If so, why should Mr. Prosecutor care whether it’s a waste of money?

  22. #22 |  Volney | 

    No cop and no prosecutor sees exonerating information as anything but an irritant. Justice is for Judges. Face the wall, there, perp.

  23. #23 |  Brian | 


    I recently accepted a field placement internship with the Georgia Innocence Project for this fall semester. Innocence Projects are not one unified national organization. Each one is independent (although they do collaborate via the Innocence Network), and makes its own decisions regarding a number of things, including which cases to take.

    I wouldn’t say that the cases would always be a slam-dunk, but they are VERY specific about which cases they take on.

  24. #24 |  Hunter | 

    @Brad Warbiany: I think the alleged prosecutor might be referring to that Dallas D.A. using his time on the job on the public dollar to look for cases to review. He’s been proactively looking for people who have been railroaded and instigating new investigations himself, I believe.

  25. #25 |  parse | 

    No cop and no prosecutor sees exonerating information as anything but an irritant. Justice is for Judges. Face the wall, there, perp.

    Volney, it’s ironic that you choose to make this gross generalization in response to a post that includes a link to an interview with a prosecutor who manifestly does not see exonerating information as an irritant. I

  26. #26 |  Alex | 

    colson – I’m sorry. It’s not a counterpoint. I should’ve said, “Those bastards at Volokh brought up the irrelevent but interesting Avery case.”

    Brad – Watkins instituted a Conviction Integrity Unit (something like that) within the DA’s office. I think he meant that “innoncence project,” not the Innocence Project. After 15 exhonerations, it seems like almost any amount of funding would be justified though.

  27. #27 |  law'n'order | 

    The comments sound like something from the maw of former Harris Cty, TX DA Chuck Rosenthal, an arrogant prig who generally ignored the clear letter and intent of law.

    Too bad he’s been run off after revelations of his email love affair with one of his underlings.

  28. #28 |  Kevin Carson | 

    For every honest prosecutor, there are a million who will fight tooth and nail to suppress evidence that threatens their conviction record. In just about every single case of exoneration by DNA evidence I’ve read about, the prosecutors did everything in their power to keep the evidence from seeing the light of day. These people are human filth.

    As somebody said, when a man’s livelihood depends on his not understanding something, you can pretty well count on his not understanding it.