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Author warns DNA evidence not enough to prevent wrongful convictions

DNA evidence can help prove who did -- or did not -- commit a crime. But the author of a new book on wrongful convictions says unless police and prosecutors change their investigating techniques, more innocent people will end up prison.

DNA evidence can help prove who did -- or did not -- commit a crime. But the author of a new book on wrongful convictions says unless police and prosecutors change their investigating techniques, more innocent people will end up prison.

The book is "Convicting the Innocent." The author is University of Virginia Law professor Brandon Garrett. He painstakingly analyzes the trial transcripts of the 250 people exonerated by DNA evidence over the past decade including several freed from prison by the Wisconsin Innocence Project after spending a dozen years or more in state prisons for crimes they didn't commit. Garrett found consistent errors made by police and prosecutors, especially in rape and murder cases, and he says that suggests there are probably more innocent people being sent to prison.

"To the extent that we're worried about what happened in these 200 DNA cases," says Garrett. "There are reasons to think there are serious errors in other rape and murder cases. We don't know whether judges are catching these errors because we don't have DNA in those cases. We just don't know."

Garrett calls for reforms in eight different areas, some in police interrogation and eyewitness identification methods, and others targeting procedures that he says are abused or ignored by prosecutors and judges.

Keith Findley of the Wisconsin Innocence Project says those reforms will help prevent future wrongful convictions, not just in rape and murder cases, but other crimes as well where DNA evidence is harder to find.

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"We have every reason to believe that we're continuing to make those same mistakes in convicting innocent people in all those other categories of cases, we just haven't been as good at discovering that," says Findley.

Findley says some of the reforms that Garret recommends in his book involving more reliable eyewitness identification techniques have begun to be implemented in Wisconsin. But he says more needs to be done to prevent future wrongful convictions.

Related Topics: BOOKSCRIME
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