Normative Narratives


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The Blind Eye of Justice

In a seemingly obvious argument, defense attorneys take up a call for access to the Combined DNA Index System, or “Codis”. Currently only 9 states allow Codis access to defendants: “Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Texas”

“There is incredible exculpatory power in the databases that the government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on over the years,” said Nina Morrison, a senior lawyer in the case.”

Codis, like all government programs, is funded by taxpayer money. How can the government not ensure that all people have access to its possible benefits? On what grounds would it be justified to not check crime scene DNA versus the defendants in order to help determine innocence or guilt. Obviously DNA testing should not be the only determinant in a criminal case, but there is no good reason why the defense should not have access to this hard scientific evidence while the prosecution does.

Some prosecutors are open to a change in rules governing Codis. “We, as law enforcement and prosecutors, are obligated to seek the truth and follow the evidence, and DNA should be entered into Codis,” said Scott Burns, executive director of the National District Attorneys Association. “It seems like there should be laws for it, and I agree that the defense should be given the information.”

Anybody can be falsely accused of a crime and find themselves as a defendant in a case; shouldn’t they have access to a DNA database they helped pay to build? If the law was truly “blind”, then both sides of the case would have access to any and all evidence that could affect the outcome.

A more inclusive Codis database would also aid the legal process. Perhaps the government should take fingerprints at the DMV. Maybe registration in the Codis database should be a requirement for receiving certain government entitlement programs. The only person who should have a problem registering their fingerprints is someone who believes they will commit a future crime; this is not the person the law should be most concerned about protecting.

Now in this particular case the defendant, Joseph Buffey, confessed to the crime. Buffey was only 19 years old at the time and at the urging of his lawyer and presumably extreme interrogation by police, felt confession would be in his best interests. “I know it’s hard to believe, but you’d be surprised what you’d confess to under certain circumstances.”

“If proceedings go as his lawyers hope, Mr. Buffey’s story will be one more in the several hundred exonerations nationwide brought about partly by new DNA techniques, many involving false confessions.”

If the law is “blind”, it is blind in its search of holding someone responsible for a crime. Attorneys make careers over big convictions and communities want closure; sometimes getting it right is not as important as holding someone responsible.

Two recommendations here. First, there should be greater transparency in the interrogation process. Second, there should be unrestricted access to Codis for defense attorneys in all states. The database is already there and paid for, restricting access makes little sense.

In terms of interrogation practices, there should be an independent evaluator in every police station to ensure ethical techniques are used in interrogation. If there are questionable actions by interrogation officers, it should be noted, particularly in cases of a confession. Lawyers are not allowed to “badger a witness”; police officers should not be allowed to badger a suspect.

What do you guys think? If 2013 is going to be a year of socially conscious discourse and positive change I am going to need the help of my readers. Let’s turn Friday back into a Q & A day instead of another day where I pick a story to write about. It’s more fun and informative for everybody that way.