Do TV Crime Shows Influence DC Murder Acquittals?

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Washington, D.C. homicide prosecutors have failed to win convictions against 11 of the 15 people who stood trial for murder this summer, the Washington Post reports. The acquittals came in a variety of slayings. Before the recent string, the U.S. Attorney’s office, which prosecutes felonies in the capital, had a conviction rate above 80 percent.

In each case, the killer is almost certainly walking free, more than likely on the streets of a city that police say is in the throes of a “crime emergency.”

The Post says interviews with jurors, prosecutors, and defense attorneys suggest that the verdicts show how television crime shows such as NBC’s “Law & Order” have raised the expectation of jurors. Jurors said they felt let down by the efforts of the prosecutors. “This is a shocking waste of my taxpayer money,” said Karen Titlow, forewoman of the jury that acquitted George J. Coleman in August after fewer than 30 minutes of deliberation. “If they didn’t have the evidence, that’s okay, but I don’t think they should go to trial with such a weak case.”

Prosecutors say police work is inconsistent. “It’s a shame,” said one prosecutor who spoke on the condition of anonymity, “because there are some really good detectives, both people who have been there a long time and people who are young and want to learn the right way to do things. But there are some awful ones, too.”

Jurors rejected testimony from eyewitnesses, often when the witnesses had their own previous encounters with police and were vulnerable to questions about their credibility. Jack Barrett, superintendent of detectives, said the model witness is a rare find. “We don’t have the ability to say, ‘We would like the cleric next door to be your eyewitness when a murder happens at 2 o’clock in the morning,’ ” Barrett said. “We are left with who is out there at the time, and in a lot of instances, they are not going be the upstanding caliber of person that you would like to present in court.”


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