Sunday, December 09, 2007

Acceptable Error Rates

On December 7, 2007, the Associated Press reported that Harris County, Texas is getting help in reviewing cases with questionable blood analysis work done by the Houston Police Department crime lab. The Innocence Project of Texas will assist in the review of 180 cases identified as having "major problems" related to shoddy serology work by the crime lab.

Three inmates have been released because of sloppy work and, potentially, forensic fraud by the Houston Police Department crime lab. The DNA section of the crime lab was so rife with problems that it was shut down in 2002 (although it has since been re-opened). Inaccuracies were also found in lab divisions that test firearms, body fluids and controlled substances. These issues are not included in the current review, which is limited to problems with blood analysis.

The AP report goes on to say that some of the 180 cases being reviewed go back to the 1980's and include death row prisoners. In October of 2007, Bob Wicoff, one of the defense attorneys leading the review, held video conferences with 160 of the inmates who are still in prison.

And then came the most chilling sentence: "Of the remaining 20 cases, half are inmates who have been executed and half have been freed from prison."

Let me translate the pertinent part into plain English: Ten of the inmates whose cases have "major problems" with the serology work that convicted them have been executed.

They are dead, killed by the State of Texas, the most efficient death machine in the nation. No apology can bring them back. But, then, we doubt any apology will be needed, because no matter what evidence of innocence is produced post-mortem, the Texas authorities will deny that it proves anything. Intractable denial is essential to the continued operation of the death machine. As long as the public wants blood – or, more appropriately these days, lethal injection – politicians, prosecutors and police will make sure they get it. Little has changed since Aztecs offered human sacrifice on the steps of the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan "so that others may live."

Keep in mind that the ten executed inmates whose convictions were obtained by bogus blood work do not represent a statewide figure. This is just Harris County. There is another batch under review in Dallas. And neither of these groups include Gary Gilmore, Cameron Todd Willingham or Rubin Cantu. And, of course, similar cases in other states are not represented here, either.

Which brings us to the questions each person must answer for himself or herself: What is an acceptable error rate in death penalty cases? How many innocent people are you willing to execute in order to get the guilty ones? One per hundred? Two? Three? Ten? Do you really believe science makes the process error-free? Are you willing to be put to death yourself, or hand over your innocent spouse or parent or child in order to feed the death machine?

When you answer these questions, act accordingly.

1 comment:

scott huminski said...

Unfortunately the government (especially Courts) will cover-up and ignore police and prosecutorial misconduct with vigor. Truthful results in our court system are few and far between. For every exonerated defendant, hundreds or thousands remain imprisoned (and perhaps face death) unjustly. -- scott huminski

See what prosecutors get away with: