Chelsea — February 15, 2012 @ 5:58 PM — Comments (0)
Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez announced last week the formation of a review unit for questionable prosecutions. Chicago’s State’s Attorney office has received a lot of criticism for the way that they have handled a number of cases in recent years. According to the Chicago Tribune, “more than a dozen older Cook County prosecutions fell apart after men were wrongfully convicted amid allegations of police torture, coerced confessions or DNA evidence that implicated others in a crime,” since Alvarez was elected in 2008. Alvarez says that the founding of this unit marks a “shift in philosophy” for her office with regard to cases involving prosecutorial misconduct and wrongful convictions.
While no one can argue that measures like this are a positive step for our justice system, they do not come close to solving the problems. The advent of DNA testing and its use in the criminal justice system have changed the legal system tremendously. Beyond a reasonable doubt becomes exceedingly possible when there is DNA evidence to prove it. That said, the technology has changed the system, but the system has not made the necessary changes to take advantage of the technology. As the Innocence Project (NY) points out, “DNA exonerations do not solve the problem, they provide scientific proof of its existence and they illuminate the need for reform.”
Many states are taking steps towards these necessary reforms; the above unit in Chicago, Ohio studies on the death penalty, the Florida Innocence Commission, and DNA database expansion in New York. Inquiries into the system are the first step towards reforming the system but we cannot stop there. Keep an eye out for an upcoming post about the Monday meeting of the Florida Innocence Commission for information about how Florida’s Supreme Court task force is moving forward with reforms to help prevent wrongful convictions.