For 16 wrongly convicted defendants in Dallas County, DNA testing was the key that set them free after years – even decades – in prison. Because of the doubt those exonerations raised, Dallas prosecutors are taking an unprecedented look at convictions in which DNA evidence cannot conclusively prove guilt or innocence, says the Dallas Morning News. That may lead to a significant departure from the way prosecutors traditionally have responded to claims of innocence. DNA cases “are the very tiniest tip of a gigantic iceberg of injustice in Texas,” said Jeff Blackburn, an Amarillo civil rights attorney.
Law Prof. Fred Moss of Southern Methodist University, a former federal prosecutor, said the effects of District Attorney Craig Watkins’ work with the legal clinic Innocence Project of Texas could ripple through courthouses across the state. By letting defense advocates search for misfires in the judicial system, Moss said, Watkins has opened a Pandora’s box: Other prosecutors could feel pressure to review old cases, and further revelations could add to public skepticism of the justice system. Some prosecutors balk at what is unfolding in Dallas. John Bradley, Williamson County district attorney, said reviews of claims are time-consuming and seldom result in confirmations of innocence. Instead of forming conviction integrity units, he said, district attorneys should teach prosecutors to scrutinize cases from the start. “I don’t mean to minimize the harm to those people” exonerated by DNA, he said. “[But] I guarantee you a lot more people were killed in drunk-driving accidents and car wrecks and in wars than were falsely imprisoned.”