Monday, October 19, 2009

Guest Shot: Jaded Justice

The following editorial was published in the Washington Post on October 19, 2009.

Jaded justice
Reexamining a Bush-era policy on plea bargains and DNA

ON ITS FACE the proposition seems reasonable enough: Anyone who pleads guilty to a federal crime must give up the right to use DNA evidence in the future to challenge that conviction. This Bush-era policy would work just fine in a perfect world, where only those who actually committed crimes pleaded guilty to those offenses.

But the facts show that this is not always the case. Defendants sometimes cop to a plea for reasons having nothing to do with guilt. Some are coerced or intimidated into a confession and subsequent plea bargain. Others accept a plea offer if it provides for a much lighter sentence than could be expected if convicted at trial. In short, not everyone who pleads guilty is guilty -- and prosecutors understand this.

Yet according to The Post's Jerry Markon, the Bush Justice Department lobbied strenuously during the early part of this decade against legislation to assure inmates of access to post-conviction DNA evidence that could prove their innocence. When the bill appeared on the verge of passing, the administration succeeded in jamming through a provision that allows defendants to waive that right. Prosecutors in the Bush administration were then instructed to insist on such waivers when negotiating a plea bargain. While not all U.S. attorneys in the country went along, many routinely abided by the mandate, including federal prosecutors in the District and in Alexandria.

Attorney General Eric J. Holder Jr. has called for a reexamination of the Bush policy -- and rightly so.

DNA evidence has become an invaluable tool in the criminal justice system, providing prosecutors, defendants and victims with more certainty about guilt or innocence. The technology has been used to prove the innocence of some 240 or so wrongly convicted people, including some who had entered guilty pleas and some who were sentenced to death. It has been used countless more times to put actual offenders behind bars.

It takes a special kind of callousness and disregard for the truth to insist that a defendant give up his rights to scientific tests that could definitively prove guilt or innocence.

Mr. Holder should rebuff this jaded approach to justice by throwing out the Bush policy as soon as possible.

1 comment:

Justice for Raul Escarcega said...

Raul Escarcega was wrongfully convicted in March 1983. THIS IS THE STORY OF HOW HE ENDED UP IN PRISON
There were only 3 persons, who commit the crime, yet 5 of them were arrest and only 2 of them were found guilty. Ironically the two that were convicted looked very similar, an uncanny resemblance, almost eerie. No line up was ever conducted nor a six pack (picture I.D.) was conducted, the victim only saw them on a very dark street and then again in court. When the crime was committed a dark blue Chevy was used and when the police pulled Raul over he was in a white Chevy. The police claim a gun was used, yet no gun was recovered they also claim that $260.00 was taken, Raul’s arrest sheet say he only had a few dollars, I believe it was either three or five dollars at the most. At the time of the hearing none of the defendants witness was called to testify. It seems that the witness (victim) was pressured into saying Mr. Escarcega committed the crime, he was intoxicated at the time and an illegal alien.
The one who committed the crime stated at Raul’s parole violation hearing (I have the tapes) that Raul Escarcega was not at the crime scene, and had nothing to do with the crime, and that he (the one who committed the crime), was the one with the stolen goods. Although, the other defendant is already out of prison, and Raul is and will be incarcerated, until I can find someone to help him. He is currently at California Training Facility, in Soledad, California.
There were over 12 witnesses, to testify that he did not do this crime, but the witnesses were never called to testify. I have a statement from one of the persons who also assisted in committing the crime which states that Raul Escarcega was not even there. Also, another person that was present can testify to Raul’s innocence. He was offered a deal for a nine year sentence, however, since he did not commit the crime, he thought the system and justice would prevail and he would be acquitted.
He is NOT IN JAIL FOR MURDER, although, if he was, he would have been out by now. His psychologist reports have always been positive, now this last one it states that he needs alcohol and drugs to function, he’s been down for 26 years and clean from any drugs/alcohol, and has completed all the necessary programs. Now the Board is focusing on his past crimes, which he already served time.
Please, keep in mind, when he was a teenager he was a gang member and has an extensive police record, he was no angel, but this crime he did not commit. Yet he has been sitting in prison since 1983.
We have children, three (3) girls, one has cancer and had to deal with chemo therapy without him, these children grew up without him, only through visits, letters and phone calls their whole life and we have four (4) grandsons who he can't play with, he’s only seen one grandson in person, in the prison setting, the others he’s only seen through pictures. My dad, his dad, two of his sisters, have passed away since he’s been in jail. My youngest daughter has Waldenstrom’s Microglob Anemia, she has chemo therapy every 3 months, our nine year old grandson has Autism, and Raul’s mother is not in the best of health at 79 years old. I am willing to pay for a monitor for Mr. Escarcega so the Parole Agent can monitor his every move.
When he went to prison was 24 years old, a young man filled with anxiety and a poor education, he was raised in an anti-social environment, where he learned very bad habits. He has grown substantially and has done everything the system has asked of him. I know Mr. Escarcega is not a threat to society; he turned 51 years old this past June. He is a tired, but a very changed man, who just wants to spend the rest of his time on earth with his family.
PLEASE HELP. Please let me know what I need to proceed, or who I can contact. Project Innocence only takes cases that DNA is involved.
Rosemarie Rios - 2811 Glenwood Place #D, South Gate, CA 90280
My e-mail is