Friday, May 21, 2010
It is often said that truth “accurate sorting of the guilty from the innocent” is the primary objective of criminal trials. Among the important safeguards in our criminal justice system intended to ensure that the innocent are protected from wrongful conviction is the system of appeals and postconviction remedies. Recent empirical evidence based on DNA exoneration cases reveals, however, that the appellate process does not do a good job of recognizing or protecting innocence. Examination of known innocents “those proved innocent by postconviction DNA testing” shows that they have rarely obtained relief on appeal. Moreover, those individuals subsequently proved innocent by postconviction DNA testing do no better on appeal and their innocence is no more regularly acknowledged than otherwise similarly situated individuals who have not been exonerated by DNA. This article examines the variety of reasons why the appellate system fails to effectively guard against wrongful conviction of the innocent, and considers possible reforms that might enhance the system's innocence-protecting functions.