5 out of 9 Justices Recommend Leaving Innocent People in Jail
In a truly awful decision reminiscent of Gore vs. Bush, the Supreme Court has decided that there should be no federal mandate for genetic testing after someone has been convicted. Even though DNA evidence can free innocent people who were wrongfully accused. How absurd is this?
It is especially hard to understand when there is ample evidence that there are plenty of innocents in prison. And when a DNA test can prove so conclusive in showing their innocence.
A case I use in a high school activity (and which will be highlighted in the new Technology Benefiting Humanity exhibition at The Tech) involves Marvin Anderson. He is an African American who was convicted of rape by an all white jury in the South.
Court TV produced a great documentary that details all of the mistakes that sent Marvin to prison. And how the Virginia state government, much like our current Supreme Court, fought the simple DNA test that eventually proved his innocence.
Marvin was a suspect because he had a white girlfriend and the rapist had said that he had a white girlfriend during the attack. In a photo line up, Marvin’s was the only picture in color. Then, in the real line up, Marvin was the only man who had been shown in the photo line up.
Marvin’s lawyer represented the man who had really committed the crime. The trial lasted one day and as I said, Marvin was sent to jail by an all white jury. And while Marvin languished in prison, the real rapist confessed but the judge threw out the confession.
This is when the Innocence Project took up the case. The Innocence Project uses genetic testing to free innocent men and women. After hearing the details of Marvin’s case, they decided to help him clear his name. And it was not easy!
First off, they had to find the evidence from the case. This is often hard to do because evidence gets thrown away after a certain amount of time.
But, by a miraculous fluke, the Virginia government found the evidence from the rape kit… it had been saved in a lab notebook. So all that needed to be done was to see if the DNA from the crime scene matched Marvin's. If it didn’t, then Marvin most likely was innocent.
But the Virginia government would not allow the evidence to be tested. Apparently, just like the Supreme Court, procedure mattered more than innocence to the bureaucrats involved.
How many people like Marvin Anderson are waiting for the justice system to do the right thing?
Finally, in 2001, after Marvin had been in jail for 15 years and spent four years on parole, Virginia passed an Innocence Project backed statute that allowed DNA evidence to be tested in some cases. Marvin’s was the first evidence tested under the new statute. He was found to be innocent and the police were able to use the evidence to catch the real rapist.
If the Virginia government had not done the right thing, the real rapist would be free to continue committing crimes. And everyone would still see Marvin as a rapist.
There are undoubtedly Marvins rotting in jail in the three states that don’t allow for genetic testing after a conviction (Alaska, Oklahoma, and Massachusetts). And other Marvins are probably in those other states that only allow genetic testing in certain situations.
The Supreme Court could have given all of these innocent people the chance that Marvin finally got after 19 years. But five justices decided against doing that.
Now I suppose there is probably some legalese reason why the Supreme Court ruled that innocent people should stay locked up. But I am not lawyer enough to understand it. And neither are the Marvins still out there, waiting for justice.