Longform

Beyond DNA, Difficult Tests for the Justice System

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Keith Findley, president of the Innocence Network, which comprises more than 50 innocence advocacy organizations nationwide, says that increasingly more entities are taking on non-DNA cases, while few still only take DNA-based cases.

"Now we've shown that there are wrongful convictions, so now our conversation can be extended to eyewitness identification, investigative techniques, even prosecutorial misconduct, the culture of district attorney's offices ... and our failure to live up to the code of criminal procedure," seeking not only convictions, but justice, Watkins says.

Most wrongful convictions have occurred because of faulty eyewitness identification. In this year's session of the Texas Legislature, a law was passed that tightens police photograph and live lineup procedures, requiring each law enforcement agency to create a detailed written procedural policy, outlining best practices, including the selection of people in lineups and the instructions given to witnesses.

"Nobody can claim that eyewitness testimony is infallible. But what we do know for sure is that there are a lot of people sitting in prison who were convicted on erroneous eyewitness testimony, where there's no DNA," Gary Udashen says.

A law was also passed to outline requirements for the storage of biological evidence, along with another measure that requires the testing of stored rape kits and outlines a timeline by which new rape kits must be tested.

In the previous legislative session, a law was passed that said a defendant may not be convicted solely on the testimony of someone they spoke to while in jail.

"I think it will have been a watershed time for criminal justice," says Wilson of the Conviction Integrity Unit, referring to the exonerations and all that's changed because of them.

"The front door, I think, is closing — the front door meaning people being wrongfully incarcerated," says Page of the Texas Exoneree Project. "But the back door is still closed. There are still people stuck in prison."

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Leslie Minora