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Monday, March 16, 2015

Justice denied by technicalities

Posted by Scott Tibbs at 4:00 AM (#)

It is a common meme in pop culture (especially movies and TV shows) that an obviously guilty criminal is freed because of "technicalities" that prevent him from going to jail. It is becoming increasingly apparent what actually happens is the innocent are kept behind bars because of technicalities, as judges deny the opportunity to review evidence that could prove that the person behind bars did not commit the crime.

For example, see this horrifying blog post by Radley Balko:

To win a new trial after conviction, an inmate must show that he or she has discovered new evidence, that the new evidence was not discoverable at the time of trial and that if the evidence had been available, the jury would probably have acquitted. The inmate must also file his or her petition within a year of when the new evidence was discovered or should have been discovered.

Kunco's petition hinged on the NAS report and its findings on bite mark evidence. In denying Kunco's petition for a new trial, Judge Rita Donovan Hathaway acknowledged that there are problems with bite mark analysis, but she found that the NAS report wasn't new evidence. Rather, it was based on older research for which Kunco had already missed his deadline to file.

If flawed science put an innocent man behind bars, and a so-called "judge" more interested in technicalities than justice kept him there, this is a quadruple injustice. It is unjust for the innocent person kept behind bars, it is unjust for the victim who will not see the real criminal punished, it is unjust for society that will not be protected from the real criminal, and it is unjust for the real criminal who will get away with his crime.

I sent an email to the legislators representing Monroe County urging them to consider limiting the use of bite mark "evidence" in criminal trials, but that is not enough. Preventing future injustices is important, but that is only a small part of ensuring the innocent are protected and the guilty are punished. The rules regarding examination of evidence need to be changed so that inmates have an opportunity to challenge flawed evidence or discredited forensic techniques, without a time limit.

Some states ahve already done this, and Indiana should follow in that path.


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