Friday, November 10, 2006

Texas pays $450,000 for wrongful conviction

Local police and county prosecutors make the mistakes, but state taxpayers must foot the bill for wrongful convictions in Texas - $25K for each year an innocent person is incarcerated. The most recent wrongfully convicted Texan to receive compensation, Arthur Mumphrey, from Houston, will receive $450,000 after spending 18 years in prison for a rape he didn't commit.

If the state must pay the freight when prosecutors make mistakes, the Legislature has a growing financial incentive to make sure fewer innocent people are convicted who must be compensated. This is another instance where a victim misidentified the offender, in this case corroborated by a mendacious snitch. As I wrote when Mumphrey's conviction was overturned:
Police pressuring victims and informants to identify the wrong suspect is emerging as a key source of wrongful convictions in Texas. Where's the substance behind all the "victim's rights" rhetoric I keep hearing, I wonder? What good did it do for the rights of the 13-year old victim in this case when they ignored the real rapist who confessed to focus on their preferred suspect? She must feel just terrible. In the Ruben Cantu case, too, the victim was pressured to blame someone who wasn't culpable, even after he'd twice said Cantu didn't do it.

The best way to keep more innocent people from being convicted is to figure out how it happened before, then restructure the rules to prevent similarly flawed evidence from producing more false convictions. Faulty witness testimony ranks at the top of the list of reasons for wrongful convictions.

I've argued before that eyewitnesses should be corroborated when they didn't previously know the defendant in a criminal case, as should jailhouse informants. Even that reform wouldn't have helped here, though, because the mendacious snitch would have been corroborated by the victim's testimony. She was just pressured into naming the wrong man.

Perhaps it would have helped if police followed best practices disallowing officers doing the investigation from participating in the lineups. Lineups work best when officers conducting the procedure don't know which person is a suspect.

In any event, this case strikes another blow against the presumed credibility in court of victims' eyewitness testimony. However emotional and compelling to a jury, at the end of the day too many get it wrong.
After Tulia and cases like Arthur Mumphrey and Brandon Moon, Texas is gaining a reputation as the wrongful conviction capital of the nation. Indeed, DNA testing has exonerated ten wrongfully convicted people in Dallas County alone in the last five years.

The 80th Texas Legislature, which convenes in January, will have the chance to enact key reforms like corroboration for snitches, videotaping interrogations and requiring best-practices for police lineups. We'll have a new chairman of the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee - we won't know who until after the new year - who will have another opportunity to fix some of the glaring problems that seem to cause the Texas justice system to so frequently convict the innocent. Here's hoping legislators act to fix the problems and improve public safety.

5 comments:

Catonya said...

They basically covered 18 yrs of lost wages.

What about the other 16 hrs per day that were stolen for him?

Government guarantees almost full immunity/protection from personal accountability to every level of law enforcement from beat cops, DA's, and so on. Immunity/protection to a degree is needed for obvious reasons. But when it's given across the board, abuse and corruption are inevitable.

800 pound gorilla said...

I respectfully disagree. When you reward convictions - at any cost - you reward heavy handed behaviors and shortcuts among law enforcement. Why should taxpayers foot the bill for heavy handed policies? The problem is NOT in the execution of abusive policies but the policies themselves. And those policies are rewarded by voters.

We need to go after individuals for abusive policies - as well as the rogue chickens who love abusing people. We do need to be up front during the election cycle. We need to identify these abuses as problems and fully support candidates who will make these abuses an issue. Attorney Generals and District Attorneys who make careers from eye popping 98% conviction rates - while strongarming little guys need to have some light shone on their abusive behavior during reelection and election.

It should be easier to tolerate 80% conviction rates - when we can't pay for jail/prison space for those currently incarcerated. I'm gearing up to hold local meetings to discuss legalization and expansion options for the drug war. I'll be inviting people from both sides to participate [no rebuttals allowed - to encourage participation from drug war chickens and the people they exploit]. The only problem is that, in my meetings, the fact that the drug war has zero standards will be a given and the discussion will center on how much restriction should be placed on supervised [medicinal] and unsupervised [social] use of drugs - and what kind of standards should be adopted for both types of use.

Catonya said...

gorilla-

Bad policy with regards to accountability was the focus of my comment.

If I interpreted correctly, we seem to be on the same page? :s

*unrelated to the above - kudos and much respect to you for taking a stand on educating our children about drugs through truth.

bojedis said...

Here in harris county two women set up a disabled man Robert McClendon on assault charges, with the security of a protective order to keep him away from his home the two women and her whole family went to his house and stole EVERYTHING THE MAN OWNED! Check this out! They even claimed his firearms from the evidence room without proper ID, AAAND without a judges' signature! During the trial they were caught lying several times and were not prosecuted! Now we have evidence from strangers about the way he was set up, and the DA's office will not investigate! You can read his story, and how I took one of them to court and sued them at:
www.americaswrongfullyconvicted.com

Anonymous said...

hey basically covered 18 yrs of lost wages.

Not even.

$25,000 per year? The median wage in America is around $39,000.

This is ridiculously low.