The Jazz Theologian

The Jazz Theologian

Anatomy of a Wrongful Conviction (p1)

It’s almost normal for us to hear the story of a wrongfully
convicted person going free after years in prison.

The latest? Cornelius Dupree Jr. who was declared innocent after serving 30 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.  Dupree, now 51 said, “Whatever your truth is, you have to stick with it” and “It’s a joy to be free again.”

Let us discover together the why’s and what’s of wrongful convictions.  Over the next few posts we’ll explore questions such as:  Have we executed an innocent man?  How many wrongful convictions are there per year?  And, why do they happen?

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Shane Roberts

posted January 6, 2011 at 9:03 am

It strikes me as odd that as the Church we have not spent more time, at the very least, discussing the issue of wrongful conviction in America. Jim Boyce has a sermon called the Illegalities of Christs’ Trial and in it he points out that Christ was the victim of a wrongful conviction–among many other injustices. If we say we follow Christ shouldn’t we be concerned about, at the very least, the injustices that he suffered in his time on earth? I fear for the American church when Christ separates the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:31-46).

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posted January 10, 2011 at 11:47 pm

As an attorney, the one client I really hope never to get is a genuinely innocent one. The criminal law system has no way to handle them. The system is about making deals. More than 90% of all criminal cases are resolved by plea bargaining. The innocent defendant has nothing to bargain with. All he can do is take his chances at trial, and, if he loses, be penalized a lot more heavily than if he had confessed to some fiction. Evidence is usually provided either by police officers who are absolutely convinced of the defendant’s guilt or indifferent to the possibility of his innocence on this particular charge (“if he didn’t do it this time, he probably got off on something at least as bad that he DID do”, or by accomplices or jailhouse snitches who have strong incentives to testify to whatever the prosecutor wants, or by eyewitnesses who are at least as likely as not to be mistaken. And the cases are driven by the prosecutor, who has the freedom to decide what offenses to charge, rather than by the judge, whose sentencing options are almost automated. And, finally, we have no idea how an innocent person is supposed to behave on trial. If he protests his innocence, he must be lying. If he merely sits silent and depressed, that must be consciousness of guilt. If he smiles, confident that justice will be done, he must be a monster. If he loses control, he’s crazy, but not legally insane. I know of no law school that teaches its students how to defend an innocent client. Anybody can defend a guilty defendant. Defending an innocent client is almost impossible.

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