Thursday, August 18, 2011

Myths Of The Criminal Justice System: Part 3

Radley Balko completes his look at legal myths.

Myth 8: Sex offenders are more likely to reoffend than other criminals.

There's no set of crimes more plagued by misconceptions and hysteria than sex crimes.

[P]eople have landed on sex offender lists for exposing themselves in public (remember the "streaking" craze in the 1970s?), public urination, or having sex at age 17 with someone who is 15. In Texas, children as young as 10 can be put on the sex offender list.
In some states, you can land on the sex offender list for crimes that have nothing to do with sex.

Because they're usually passed out of anger and passion rather than after careful contemplation, sex offender laws often make little sense. 

Myth 9: Seeing is believing. Eyewitness testimony is a reliable way of solving crimes.

. . . participants were shown grainy video footage of a real case in which a man shot and killed a security guard while robbing a convenience store. They were then given five pictures, and told that the culprit was included in the photo set -- except that he wasn't. Yet every one of the participants still claimed they could positively identify the culprit in one of the photos.

More troubling, when the researchers positively reinforced one group's selection of the culprit, that group became more confident in their identification. Half said they were now “certain” of their identification. Those participants also said they would be more willing to testify against the suspect. They were more likely to describe the hazy security footage as “clear." . . .

Myth #10: Wrongful convictions are tragic, but they're inevitable in an imperfect system. We at least take care of the wrongly convicted once we realize there has been a mistake.

With some notable and laudable exceptions, prosecutors often find it difficult to let go of a conviction -- even once it's clear that they got the wrong man.

Currently in Texas, where there's strong evidence that the state has already executed an innocent man, public officials from the local prosecutor all the way up to the governor are fighting to prevent death row inmate Hank Skinner from testing DNA from his case that could prove his innocence (or clearly establish his guilt). . . .


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