The Discovery Channel now has a documentary series based on the unit of the Dallas County DA’s office that does its own investigations of possibly innocent people in prison, rather than stonewalling demands for DNA checks as so many prosecutors’ offices do.
The unit is a transparently good idea, and every major DA’s office ought to have one. If I were a Governor or a state Attorney General, I’d establish a statewide office to boot; Eric Holder might consider creating a similar unit within the Justice Department (to cover state as well as federal prisoners). The exoneration of the innocent is every bit as much a part of the prosecutor’s job as the conviction of the guilty, and having such units, equipped with the power to subpoena evidence and witnesses, would help put a check on over-enthusiastic cops and prosecutors.
I wonder whether the TV show reflects a change in the political climate regarding crime? When I was growing up, there were shows where the defense lawyers were the heroes: Perry Mason and The Defenders. But after the crime surge of the 1960s, it was wall-to-wall cop shows, in which all defendants were guilty and defense lawyers were pond scum. Perhaps the folks who run the Discovery Channel sense a change in public attitudes, and having shows such as this one will help move that change along.
Of course, the overwhelming majority of defendants are guilty. But the exceptions matter.