False convictions plague system

Saturday May 18, 2013

I spent five years behind bars for a crime I did not commit. I am not alone. Wrongful convictions are more common than you think.

There is a 2008 case that a federal appeals court overturned. The name of the victim is Shih-Wei Su. His conviction was overturned because a Queens prosecutor had "knowingly elicited false testimony" in sending him to prison. The city paid Su $3.5 million, roughly a million dollars for every 31Ž2 years of the 12 he served. The prosecutor received a private reprimand -- maybe a scolding or a fine, or both?

In another case, a federal judge determined that critical evidence was withheld by a Brooklyn senior prosecutor. I would guess that the evidence was exculpatory in nature.

According to Pro-Publica, a nonprofit investigative newsroom in New York, these cases are not unique. There have been 30 convictions thrown out in recent years, yet hardly anyone is held accountable. On top of the 30 cases, reporters at Pro-Publica found more than 50 other cases in New York appellate courts where the tactics of prosecutors had been criticized. However, the convictions stood, and as far as Pro-Publica could determine, no disciplinary action was taken against anyone in those DA offices.

Not only are prosecutors at fault, but judges as well. Both need to be held accountable. Judges should be required to take corrective measures in these cases. In New York, if a judge learns there is a "substantial likelihood" that a lawyer has committed a "substantial violation" of legal ethics, "appropriate action" must be taken.

In a rare case, a judge in Texas actually ordered the arrest of a former DA, accusing him of improper actions when he prosecuted an innocent man who ended up spending nearly a quarter century locked up. See the Saturday, April 20 paper (page A2) for this incredible story.

These actions ruin lives. I know -- I’m one such life. My battle is still ongoing. I still struggle on my case.

The punishment should fit the crime. If a prosecutor causes grievous suffering to an innocent person, they should be fittingly punished. Not 12 years behind bars for the 12 years served by an innocent person, they should perhaps serve twice the amount of time served by the innocent person! They take oaths, they know better.

I quote Lord William Blackstone from 1765: "Better that 10 guilty escape than that one innocent suffer."




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