Should prisoners for whom there is strong evidence of innocence be required to admit guilt to be granted parole?
Parole Boards Shouldn’t Provide Incentives for Claims of Innocence
NOVEMBER 13, 2014
Joshua Marquis is the district attorney in Astoria, Ore., and co author of "Debating the Death Penalty."
We are approaching a point in our criminal justice system where even the guilty are regarded as innocent, and no one is responsible – unless there is absolutely, positively, 100-percent perfect DNA evidence available. And even then, well, there are always legal technicalities.
The justice system is a work in progress and not perfect. There are a tiny number of people who have been convicted and were in fact innocent. But a parole board, where virtually nothing about the case or the victims or the evidence is important, is not the place to re-adjudicate guilt.
Many decry the decades-long appeals convicted murderers get, but that is how the wrongly convicted get justice, not from a overly sympathetic parole board.
It’s not surprising then that more prison inmates smell freedom amid all this confusion. They read the news. They talk to one another. They know the trends. They know it’s now possible for even a guilty man to be cast as the victim – especially if the guilty man claims innocence.
"Truth in sentencing” laws have eliminated many parole boards. Parole hearings in Oregon are only for inmates sentenced before 1992. They generally limit the district attorney and the victim's representative to 15 minutes each to address the release of the man who profoundly affected the victim's life. The inmate and his representative can go on for hours.
Nothing changes for the victim no matter what the killer wants to tell the parole board. And when does the victim get parole? Likely, never. "Closure" is an elusive concept.
What’s troubling about the stories of murderers who insist on their innocence after pleading guilty 25 years ago, is how the stories turn those killers into celebrated victims who – unlike the dead victims – can give interviews and talk about their years in prison. It feeds the myth that our prisons are full of innocent men, when in fact our prisons are full of criminals who were finally caught.
The claim that so many are actually innocent is largely an urban legend, seriously undermined last week when the supposed innocence of Anthony Porter, a former Illinois death row inmate, fell apart.
At a murder trial, a defense attorney once asked jurors,"Is mercy earned or bestowed?" I argued that in order for mercy to be bestowed, it must be earned.
Read the Opinion on the NY Times website.