I recently posted about a New York Times op-ed which claims
that the justice system is far more afflicted by the wrongly freed than the wrongly convicted. The very notion rests on a
false dichotomy. When someone is wrongly convicted, typically the real culprit remains at large. This is one of the collateral
costs of the tragedy of false confessions.
A recent op-ed in the New York Times, strangely titled The Wrongfully
Exonerated, argues that far too much is made out of wrongful convictions since the rate is probably less than 1%. The
author, a district attorney, concludes that "The real risk to most Americans are the wrongfully freed, not the wrongfully
convicted." However, no statistics are given about the rate of "wrongfully freed," nor any reason to believe that
the problem is widespread. The author would have us believe that the Innocence Project and others who labor to free the wrongly
convicted are a threat to justice in America. Those of us in the false confessions business know better.
Today the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of capital
punishment via lethal injection. Such peripheral challenges to the death penalty, while understandable, deflect
attention from the biggest problem: the inevitable execution of some innocent persons. We've learned that false confessions
are surprisingly prevalent, but they are hardly the only basis of wrongful conviction. And the reality of wrongful
convictions should produce a consensus against the death penalty.
A few years ago I posted about the Kafkaesque case of Walter Ogrod, a
probable false confessor who was about to be acquitted when a juror blurted out that he disagreed with the verdict. The judge
declared a mistrial, and in a subsequent trial Ogrod was convicted based on the testimony of a notoriously unreliable jailhouse
snitch. I recently received a message from a man who writes: "I'll give you even more Kafkaesque. I was the original 12th
juror in the first trial. I too believe he was not guilty. I was relieved from the trial because of a family crisis.
The man who replaced me is the one" who caused the mistrial.