Some Easy Ways To Reduce False Convictions

Posted by | June 3, 2011 20:42 | Filed under: Top Stories

by Stuart Shapiro

Criminal justice policy is usually about a single tradeoff.  Totalitarian states essentially treat people as guilty until proven innocent and as a result lock up many innocent people.  Liberal states are the opposite, trying to avoid jailing the innocent even if it means letting some guilty people go free.  A new book talks about the recent rash of innocent people exonerated by DNA evidence after serving long jail terms here in the U.S.  From a recent review.

Since the late 1980s, DNA testing has exonerated more than 250 wrongly convicted people, who spent an average of 13 years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit. (There is every reason to think that more people have been wrongly convicted since then, but only these 250 have been definitively exonerated by postconviction DNA tests.) Seventeen of the 250 were sentenced to die, and 80 to spend the rest of their lives in prison.

The most galling thing is that there are easy fixes and they don’t hurt the tradeoff between jailing the innocent and letting the guilty run free.  Record interrogations so that juries can decide for themselves whether confessions are coerced.  Have lineups be double blind where the police don’t know who the suspect is so they can’t guide witnesses toward the “correct” choice.  And make DNA testing more widespread for serious crimes.  None of these would make freeing criminals more likely.  They would all make it less likely that we imprison or execute the innocent.

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Copyright 2011 Liberaland
By: Stuart Shapiro

Stuart is a professor and the Director of the Public Policy
program at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers
University. He teaches economics and cost-benefit analysis and studies
regulation in the United States at both the federal and state levels.
Prior to coming to Rutgers, Stuart worked for five years at the Office
of Management and Budget in Washington under Presidents Clinton and
George W. Bush.

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