Friday, May 2, 2008

Wrongful Conviction Troubles Conservative

Former Georgia Congressman Bob Barr, a conservative and supporter of the death penalty, recently questioned the fairness and accuracy of capital punishment in an piece published by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Based on a recent University of Virginia study of wrongful conviction cases, Barr questions the reliability of eyewitness identification. He also applauds the Georgia Supreme Court's decision to grant a hearing to death row inmate Troy Davis, recently granted a 90-day stay of execution by the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles due to concerns about his possible innocence.

In the Davis case, seven of the nine eyewitnesses who testified against him during his trial have now recanted or changed their testimony, and new witnesses have implicated one of the state's key witnesses against Davis as the real killer. Barr said that "the credibility of our criminal justice system" is at stake in Davis' case, writing:

"I've been called a lot of things, but a "bleeding heart liberal" is not one of them. I am a firm believer in the propriety and historic soundness of the death penalty. But, as a proponent of our Constitution and its attendant Bill of Rights, I believe just as strongly in the fundamental fairness that lies at the heart —- or should lie at the heart —- of our criminal justice system. Because of its obvious finality, the death penalty must be employed with as close to absolute fairness and certainty as humanly possible. Several recent cases, including that of Troy Davis here in Georgia, have raised legitimate questions about just that proposition. True conservatives, as much as the most bleeding heart liberals, should be unafraid to look carefully at such cases.

A new study of wrongful convictions —- "Judging Innocence" by University of Virginia law Professor Brandon Garrett —- provides cause for concern. Professor Garrett studied 200 cases of wrongful convictions and found that in each case, DNA evidence conclusively proved the individual's innocence and resulted in exoneration. According to Garrett, the leading cause of these wrongful convictions was erroneous identification by eyewitnesses, which occurred in an overwhelming 79 percent of the cases. Even more disturbing, in 25 percent of the cases, this faulty eyewitness testimony was the only evidence against the defendant.

Read it all here.

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