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More on finality in criminal cases

Courts have to deal with the practicality of the day-to-day operations of their practice and procedure. Appeals have to be exhausted and decisions have to be completed. But when testimony is flawed, and a defendant is sentenced to life in prison or given the death penalty, it seems rather empty for a court to pretend that administrative niceties are more important.

The other issue that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and many criminal courts would prefer to avoid is the problem of wrongful convictions as a whole. The concept of justice becomes hollow when the process fails to accurately distinguish between the innocent and the guilty.

The cases that receive attention tend to be death penalty or life in prison cases involving sex crimes, because these crimes often have DNA evidence that can be tested and which may rule out the convicted defendant as a valid suspect. These situations have led to high profile exonerations.

But they are not the only situations where wrongful convictions have occurred. Some estimates place the number of wrongful convictions that occur every year as high as 50,000 out of the one million convicted every year.

And many of these wrongful convictions are not simply mistakes of constitutional procedure, where a person did the crime, but the police blundered procedurally and rendered some element of the conviction invalid. No, many of these wrongful convictions are simply the wrong person. Period.

Why this should give the average person reason to pause is it means there thousands of criminals who are free while someone innocent does their time, which is a waste of government resources and creates a genuine safety risk to the public.

Source:, "Old Convictions, New Science," Maurice Chapman, May 28, 2015

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Joseph S. Friedberg Chartered

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