Friday, November 24, 2006

DNA Testing

Every time I read about a DNA test that exonerates someone behind bars, I wonder how many people have been locked up for crimes they didn't commit. Sure, they may be bad guys anyway, but how many were locked up solely because they were bad guys and not because of pretty good evidence in the specific case before the jury?

I can't imagine how I'd react if I were unjustly locked up, convicted of a crime I didn't commit. As a teenager I'd sometimes lie to my mother, but I'd get furious when she called me a liar when I was telling the truth. Odd how she would believe my lies, but not believe me when I told the truth. But in those circumstances I had only to stew in my anger, not suffer the loss of my freedom for years on end.

Bad cops, overzealous prosecutors, plain bad luck--there's just too big a possibility that a person innocent of a particular crime (but not necessarily an innocent person, as I said above) could get convicted of that crime. How many people have been wrongly convicted? How many wrongly convicted people have been executed? I shudder just at the thought. DNA evidence should be used whenever it's possible to do so, unlike in the story linked above. And prisoners who have always professed their innocence, but were convicted in the pre-DNA days--I've read about some of them being released after recent DNA tests confirmed their innocence. It angers me, and I'm not even the one who was wronged. They never should have been locked up in the first place.

Freedom is just too important. We have to be sure. And I think DNA testing, when it can be used, is a good step to getting us there.


rightwingprof said...

DNA testing has also confirmed convictions.

Darren said...

Yes it has, but those weren't unjust convictions. I'm writing about people wrongly convicted of crimes.

Anonymous said...

I've been reading you for awhile. Now I have a blogspot of my own. I am an advocate of justice but like you believe we should be as sure as possible.

Tyler said...

This is one of the big reasons I'm against the death penalty.

Anonymous said...

Dude that would suck so much to be convicted of murder if ureally didnt do it

rightwingprof said...

I'm all for tightening death penalty laws, perhaps even to requiring DNA evidence, but only if the automatic appeals process is done away with -- after all, if DNA is the final test of guilt, then there's no reason to waste money on appeals -- and a hard execution date of one year from the date of conviction is set. Other requirements: all "mitigating factors" laws would be abolished, and the death penalty upon conviction would become mandatory. Fast track executions, and stop wasting money on murderers, rapists and child molesters. And while we're saving money, bring back the noose, and stop wasting money on more expensive means of execution.

After all, it works both ways. So if DNA is the end-all and be-all of guilt, it is the end-all and be-all of guilt, and not just when you want to release somebody from death row.

Darren said...

I'd go you one step further--why wait a year?

Eric Warburg said...

In case there was a mistake in the lab processing of the evidence.

rightwingprof said...

"In case there was a mistake in the lab processing of the evidence."

I can go along with that, though these days, almost all DNA tests are done by two different labs, and it no longer takes very long to run DNA tests.

John S. said...

As George Carlin once remarked, why do they use alcohol wipes on prisoners receiving a lethal injection? The wipe seems a waste of a perfectly good disinfecting agent on someone who has no worries about infected needles or germs. I’ll buy the state a gun, an original cheap few hundred dollars, and then we can charge the family/friends for the price of the bullet.

As a liberally oriented person, you might be surprised to learn that I support the death penalty under certain circumstances, such as murder. While I actually agree with most of what rightwingprof said in his sensationalized statement, I think “mitigating factor” laws must stay intact upon the lack of DNA evidence. Otherwise, tie me a noose. I just want to make sure, like Darren, we are stringing up the right gal.

I still want to make clear however that the notion that capital punishment is a deterrent is ridiculous. The only person you are assuring will not commit the crime again is the person you kill! Delinquency rates are far too high to believe law and punishment are deterrents. Let us face it; punishment is societal revenge—vengeance. Nothing more, nothing less. Why should we care whether our societal norms are right or wrong? If the person violates those mores, really, punish them.

rightwingprof said...

"I think “mitigating factor” laws must stay intact upon the lack of DNA evidence"

Mitigating factors are nothing more than attempts to cheat justice by whining about how Daddy didn't hug me enough. To the extent that they are used, they are always abused.

As for deterring crime, the purpose of the death penalty is not to deter crime. That has always been a liberal straw man. The purpose of the death penalty is also not vengeance.

The purpose of the death penalty is justice. Justice for the victims, justice for the victims' families, and justice for society. Ed Koch wrote an exemplary essay defending the death penalty, "Death and Justice: How Capital Punishment Affirms Life," but I've never been able to find a digital copy online, or I'd link to it.

If you can find it, I highly recommend it.

John S. said...

Okay, while I thought Durkheim’s Division of Labor in Society and Foucault’s Discipline and Punish were enough for me on the subject to learn I did not want to read anymore on it I read the Democrat Koch’s conservative paper.

First, however, as for the “justice” you speak of, I have no clue what you mean by the term. Justice is far too subjective, as is discipline, punishment, vengeance, and deterrence. Justice is not an ideal type with a singular concrete meaning—as you will note my objections to ideas of deterrence were founded on. I have no idea why you think deterrence is a liberal straw man since such themes are actually a stronghold of republicanism, especially as it relates to Lockean conceptions of the social contract in which republican ideology is based on. Indeed, Lincoln spoke in this way as he executed deserters of the Union Army (I got that from Koch).

First, “Death and Justice: How Capital Punishment Affirms Life,” by Edward I. Koch in the April 15, 1985 The New Republic (vol. 192) actually sounds like a title which would support the notion capital punishment is meant to affect the living. (I gained electronic access to The New Republic via full license text at the library: linked after paragraph but I do not know if you will have access). As I read on, my suspicion proved correct. I have no idea what you thought you read but Koch adamantly says the death penalty functioned as a deterrent because it would stop other murders. He goes on to show that many intellectuals and politicians throughout history have supported the death penalty, including the Lords of Republicanism: John Locke and Abraham Lincoln. His central thesis is that the death penalty is logical and that it acts as a deterrent.

As for: “Mitigating factors are nothing more than attempts to cheat justice by whining about how Daddy didn't hug me enough. To the extent that they are used, they are always abused.” Huh? I keep interpreting you as preferring to group everybody under one or the other “type” with no room for a middle ground or variation. Am I wrong? I just do not understand this. Are you really telling me if someone brings up mitigating factors then they are trying to cheat justice and they have daddy issues? If you are, I cannot argue because I have no way of identifying with your “absolute” viewpoint on this. I am sorry but it seems more of a statement of rhetoric and flair than one of logic and firm, sound belief.

rightwingprof said...

Mitigating factors are nothing more than attempts to shift responsibility away from the criminal -- who bears sole responsibility for is actions. It does not matter if Gary was abused as a child. He chose to murder as an adult -- and for every Gary, there are thousands of adults who were abused as children, yet did not choose to become murderers.

If you believe that we are mindless puppets whose actions are the results of external forces, then mitigating circumstances make sense. If, on the other hand, you believe that we are human beings with minds and free will, and that we must take responsibility for our actions, then they do not.

And as for deterrents, capital punishment undeniably deters crime. It's difficult to murder somebody in the next cell if you've been put to death.

Your relativist hogwash about justice is just that: relativist hogwash, particularly since it is the purpose of the court system to mete out justice.

Jonh S. said...

Well, first, I am neither an existentialist nor structuralists so I do not believe in the absolute pervasiveness of forces like, well, say, you do when it came to government dependence in New Orleans after Katrina, or the notion individuals make autonomous decisions, like having free will, apart from the influence of both external and untellable internal forces. While I am neither, you seem to be both when it fits your point. And, if I were a relativist, I guess it would be okay. Nevertheless, relativism would logically reduce into a notion I support people can do whatever they please, and as my previous postings pertaining to this message indicate above, I certainly do not. I think you mistake my questioning of terms you so freely use as relativism. Again, what do you think the term means? I am sorry to sound so rude, I see your comments as rather contradictory and emotional, so I think I may be responding that way. I do not intend to bore you with hogwash nor come across as insulting. I enjoyed your article recommendation and have liked your challenges thus far because it has forced me to articulate my own beliefs (indeed, we agree more than we do not on this topic—have you actually read every boring, pedantic thing I wrote?). Yet, again, you seem more interested in rhetoric, dramatic prose, and arguing with a liberally oriented person than logical discussion in which the consequence has been, seemingly, contradictory statements. Again, I fully confess I may have interpreted you wrong, and will actually think it is true if you told me so.