Tuesday, June 5, 2007

New Dallas DA Comes in Swinging -- At Bad ID Procedures

As reported over at Grits for Breakfast and at the New York Times, the new Dallas District Attorney -- a career defense attorney until his election to DA in November -- has some new ideas about prosecuting crime. This shouldn't seem novel, but in Craig Watkins' own words, "I lock them up if they're guilty." But against the backdrop of 13 DNA exonerations in the last six years under the old leadership in Dallas County alone, a focus on prosecuting the guilty comes as a welcome change.

Among the changes Mr. Watkins has already brought is a dramatic reform to police lineup procedures, namely the use of double-blind procedures, where the person administering the lineup is unaware of the identity of the suspect. Studies like the Hennepin County Blind-Sequential Pilot Project (PDF) have generated promising results, suggesting that the use of blind procedures can play a key role in reducing the number of innocent people selected from police lineups.

In other fronts in Mr. Watkins' attack on what he terms the "conviction-at-all-costs" mentality of his predecessors, the new DA has put an end to the practice of destroying files in death penalty cases following convictions, and has partnered with the Innocence Project of Texas to review 400 new cases for possible wrongful convictions. He is also taking steps to educate prisoners, and provide drug rehab in custody.

To his critics -- who Watkins says "are just waiting for me to make a mistake" -- he says: "It doesn't make any difference. Let them be on the wrong side of history."

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