Every year the National Registry of Exonerations issues a report about cases in which individuals have been cleared after being convicted. The latest report reveals that 2013 was a banner year with 87 exonerations.
Of the 87 recorded so far, four involve individuals convicted of crimes in Virginia. And one in particular stands out from the others. It's the case of one David Boyce who was convicted of murder and robbery in Newport News in 1991. Prosecutors reportedly had sought the death penalty. Had the jury gone with that recommendation instead of giving Boyce two life terms, some question whether he would be free today.
This annual report serves as a reminder that despite our expectations of just outcomes for anyone charged with a crime, mistakes do get made. Eyewitness identifications can be faulty. Individuals may lie on the stand. Police and prosecutors may manipulate processes or evidence to achieve a conviction at all costs.
Those are among the many reasons why we always suggest that anyone facing criminal charges work with an experienced attorney. Solid legal representation cannot guarantee mistakes won't happen, but it can reduce the risk and serve to bolster efforts to obtain eventual exonerations.
What reportedly contributed to Boyce's finding of innocence was a series of things. A new comparison of DNA evidence showed they didn't match; witnesses were shown to have been wrong in their identifications; one witness committed perjury; authorities withheld evidence from the defense; and his defense representation was found to be inadequate.
One element of the report attracting a good deal of praise is data showing that police and prosecutors are increasingly willing to initiate or cooperate in investigating possible wrong convictions. It says that officials played positive roles in obtaining 33 of the 87 exonerations in 2013.
While that is a good sign, some experts might argue that it is only right. Doesn't it stand to reason that if our law says that one is innocent until proven guilty that law enforcement's duty should include protecting the rights of those who may be wrongly convicted?
Source: The Virginian-Pilot, "Optimism in exonerations," Feb. 6, 2017