Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What should we do with a perjurer whose recantation frees an innocent man?

From the L.A. Times, a story about bad evidence leading to a conviction:

A man who has spent 20 years behind bars for a murder he insists he did not commit is expected to be released from Los Angeles County Jail on Tuesday after several witnesses recanted their identification of him as the killer in a drive-by shooting.

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge overturned the conviction of Francisco “Franky” Carrillo, 37, on Monday afternoon, finding that the recantations and other evidence undermined his conviction for the 1991 killing.

Judge Paul A. Bacigalupo made the decision after listening to more than a week of testimony from the witnesses and watching a dramatic reconstruction of the crime scene that raised questions about what the witnesses could have seen on the evening of the shooting.

My question in this case is whether the witnesses should be prosecuted for perjury. It seems like they belong in prison, and that they owe civil damages to Franky Carrillo.

The only reason I can think of for not prosecuting those witnesses at this point is that doing so would discourage witnesses who perjured themselves in the past from coming forward and admitting they were liars.

The case underscores what legal experts say is the danger of relying heavily on eyewitness testimony. Studies have shown that faulty identifications are the biggest factor in wrongful convictions and that witnesses are particularly unreliable when identifying someone of a different race. The witnesses who identified Carrillo are black, while he is Latino.

This is really beside the point. The problem in this case was not mostly that the prosecutors relied on eyewitnesses or that the witnesses were the wrong color. The problem was that these eyewitnesses were liars.

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