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Thursday, January 03, 2008

Reasonable Doubt

Charles Chatman, a forty-seven year old man, was recently released from prison in Texas. He was the 15th man from Dallas County, Texas, to be exonerated by DNA evidence in the past six years. How many others are there? In Texas? In the United States?

Chatman served 26 years of a 99 year sentence for a rape he did not commit.

I have to wonder how this happens. One of my immediate thoughts is that juries do not take the concept of "reasonable doubt" seriously enough.

I have personally seen people convicted solely on the basis of testimony of convicted felons. These felons receive time off their sentence for their testimony. Somehow, jurors believe convicted drug dealers enough to put someone in jail. I doubt the jurors would buy a used care from these same convicted drug dealers if one of them said, "you do not have to look under the hood. You can trust me." Why not? because they would have damned serious doubt about whether or not the person was lying.

Yet somehow the jurors do not even muster reasonable doubt when it comes to believing them during someone else's trial.

In Mr. Chatman's case, the jurors believed the victim. The victim had been raped, but not by Chatman. While there is a strong desire to believe a victim, there should be a stronger desire to keep an innocent person out of jail.

In the cases where convicted felons get time off in exchange for their testimony, the State and the judge are complicit with the jury. If a witness was paid a lousy $20 to "tell the truth" on the stand by a party in a civil case, that testimony would be disallowed and people would be facing bribery charges.

Somehow, however, the promise of freedom in the form of a lesser sentence is not subject to the same restrictions. What is more valuable? What gives more incentive to lie? Twenty bucks or freedom?

The double standard is Alice in Wonderland absurd.

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