“Outdated theories and folklore”

That’s the basis on which the state of Texas sent a man to his death. How many more are no rotting in prison for crimes committed by other people?

Texas seems to have sent an innocent man to his death.

Of course, Justice Scalia doesn’t think there’s anything unconstitutional about that. They gave him a fair trial, you know. Yes, the forensics evidence has now been found to have relied on “outdated theories and folklore.” But that’s life in the big city.

Congratulations, Governor Perry! You made two children orphans. But you stood tough against crime. That’s what counts, isn’t it?

One point too rarely made about these cases: we hear about them because they involve execution, which is dramatic. But death penalty cases are undoubtedly more carefully litigated than ordinary criminal cases. So for every innocent person sent to death row, there are probably thousands of innocents sentenced to long prison terms. Three-sigma accuracy – one error in 100 cases – is a pretty high standard. If our criminal justice system is that good, which it probably isn’t, there are about 20,000 people behind bars right now for things they didn’t do.

And there is no public agency, no one with the power to compel testimony, assigned to the task of identifying them and setting them free. Makes you sorta proud to be an American, doesn’t it?

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com