How the Innocent End Up in Prison

My wife is a fan of what I call “Forensic Files, etc.” – meaning all of those true crime TV shows that have popped up over the last 5 to 10 years or so. (Despite being a criminal defense lawyer, I can barely stand to watch those shows myself.)

I walked by the living room as she was watching the end of last night’s Dateline NBC “Scenes from a Murder” episode about an ultimately still unsolved investigation of a young woman’s death.

I’ll quote the part that caught my ear later in the post, but for starters, here’s my wife’s recap of the events.

Young woman found dead. Years of investigation with multiple investigators lead to suspects including: the fraternity boyfriend, the neighbor (eventually incarcerated for a different violent crime), and even the brother, father and mother are accused of complicity at one point, albeit by a disgruntled out of town police officer who became upset when he was no longer being considered for an acting/directing role in a possible movie.

Bottom line: unsolved violent crime. Unlikely to ever be solved.

Now here’s what caught my attention. As Keith Morrison, the narrator, is wrapping up, he says:

As for [the Sheriff], he says he’s determined still that someone will be charged with the murder of Jennifer Morgan.

That someone be charged. Not that the killer is finally found. That “someone be charged”.

And now to innocents in prison.

The feeling that someone must pay, especially for gruesome and violent crimes, is so strong, that it often leads police, D.A.’s, and juries to feel compelled to “solve” a murder with a ‘Guilty’ verdict.

After all, we know someone did it, right? If no one is convicted, justice has not been served.

How many murder investigations have actually lead to indictments by prosecutors of “the only person we know who to charge”? Or indictments of “the spouse because they are the best suspect”?

Follow that up with a trial where the jury is given no other option as to who will ever go to prison for this crime…and you end up with defendants convicted on extremely shaky evidence.

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Comments (1) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Donna Davis - January 16, 2008 8:42 PM

I suppose it would be too much to ask that in the 2008 elections you make a run for president? Yeah - I guess it is silly to consider putting someone in office who actually THINKS!! Your posts are not only insightful, but are evidence that some intelligence exists in this country!! Maybe this would be a good addition for your post: The Supreme Court has ruled, that letting a guilty person walk free is far, far less of an injustice, than sending an innocent one to jail.
Now, if we could just get the cops to quit playing hungry, hungry hippo with everyone's lives - where the cop with the most marbles wins the government grant (and, as the marbles are all the same color - the point is, there are just as many guilty as there are innocent), then perhaps, there would be some sense of justice (for those who doubt this or think it cynical - look at the prison population in America and note that we are at double the capacity in almost every prison in this country, and exceed China - not on a per capita basis, but purely on the amount of people in prison!!!; on a per capita basis, we are exponentially larger in our prison populations!)

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