Monday, September 20, 2004

Who would oppose DNA testing?

U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions would, that's who!

This Tuesday, the Senate is scheduled to take up legislation (formerly known as the Innocence Protection Act) that would provide more money to help local governments conduct DNA testing. The money would help law enforcement solve cases in which the perpetrator(s) have not been apprehended and it would help those behind bars with credible claims of innocence by allowing them to seek access to DNA tests.

But in comes Senator Sessions of Alabama. Interestingly, Alabama is the lone state in the U.S. that does not provide any public assistance whatsoever to help people on death row out with their appeals. Says Sessions:

"This bill would take $100 million in federal taxpayer funds and give it to anti-death penalty groups for the defense of murderers and terrorists."

Sad. Sad, and untrue. Sessions confuses groups like ours with state agencies and other groups that receive state funds that actually do represent people on death row during the appeals process. Our group lobbies against the death penalty but does not provide support to people on death row to help with their appeals. (I wish we could, but we do not have their type of expertise.)

Lest anyone think I am being partisan here, please understand that this legislation passed the House last year on a strong 357 to 67 vote and has been endorsed by U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, hardly anyone's idea of a radical liberal.

Also please understand that in the past three months, three people in the Deep South have been released from prison after being proven innocent by DNA testing. The three served a combined 61 years in prison!

Perhaps Senator Sessions would care to take their place? Of course, the irony is that if he did, groups like mine would still be arguing in favor of giving him access to the DNA technology that would set him free.

4 comments:

dfgdthnnbd said...

Although I do understand that the main reason you are against the death penalty is because our justice system is imperfect, doesn't that lead to the premise that you would be against any sort of punishment, including imprisonment?

Another point. DNA testing is being totally abused. Although DNA testing is great, it doesn't prove you're innocent, it can only support guilt. If your DNA is there, then you were there, though not necessarily guilty. But, if you DNA is not there, that doesn't prove you weren't there, and it doesn't prove you didn't do it!

CarrieJ said...

Well...that's only partially true. In many cases, there is evidence that only one person was around the victim at the time of the murder. If there was DNA found on the scene (particularly semen), and that DNA is not your's, its pretty good evidence that you were not the one person there. Such evidence is particularly helpful in rape cases. At the VERY least, evidence of another person's DNA at a crime scene provides serious reasonable doubt of the defendant's guilt. Our justice system relies on the burden of proof. A defendant is not to be found guilty if the prosecution cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty. If the jury is given reasonable doubt by the presence of another's DNA, then the defendant should not be convicted. So, even in cases where DNA would not completely exonerate a defendant (there were multiple participants, time is off, etc.), its availability is still strong evidence of reasonable doubt. Do we really want to kill people who we have a reasonable doubt may not have committed the crime?

I don't know about the folks at NCADP, but many of the abolitionists that I know are against the death penalty for a myriad of reasons and not just because the justice system is imperfect. For many, it is just a moral outrage. That said, most of us are not against punishing criminals. Of course, people who commit crimes should be punished. It is, however, a completely different animal to murder someone for a crime that they did not commit. At least if you discover that someone who is punished only by imprisonment is not guilty, you can free the person after you discover their innocence. Once a condemed person is executed, they are gone forever...a mistake cannot be corrected. There is a difference. Personally, I abhore violence of any kind. If you murder someone, you SHOULD be punished. I just do not believe that punishment should involve the taking of your life.

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