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Innocent till jurors start to really dislike you?

Here's yet another case, tragic in countless senses, where overzealous prosecutors jumped the gun and focused on the wrong suspectthe father, who spent eight months in jailbefore learning six years later that someone else, in this instance a convicted sex offender, had done the grisly deed. The remarkable work of The Innocence Project teaches us that these episodes are hardly a rarity. All told, as of this writing, Scheck, Neufeld et al have freed 254 convicts who were wrongly (and, too often, wrongfully) convicted.
This is why I've said many times that the standards of evidence, or what we call evidence, are way too lenient. (See particularly here and here. If you're a glutton for punishment [no pun intended], you might also want to read my long September '09 piece for Skeptic, "Criminal Injustice.") I am gravitating more and more to the position that if there isn't verifiable physical evidence linking someone to a crime scene, no charges should be filed. Among other things, this would ameliorate the justice system's racial inequities. It would eliminate convictions based on circumstantial evidence. And it certainly would rule out verdicts that flow from jurors' impressions of a defendant's demeanor at trial: As I've also said on several occasions, that sort of vague, inferential "fact"-finding, rooted in nothing more than a defendant's Q-score and/or wildly fallacious assumptions about "how people ought to behave" in such circumstances*, is so arbitrary, subjective and prejudicial that it has no place anywhere near a court of law. Its specific exclusion should be part of a judge's instructions to the jury.

Would this result in at least some guilty parties going free? Yes. But I go by that old saw about how "it's better that 10 guilty men go free than that one innocent man is convicted." After all, you can't exonerate someone who has already been executed.

* which of course is itself largely rooted in jurors' perceptions of how they would behave, which has zero bearing on the matter at hand.

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