Copyright 2007 by William A. Mays, Proprietor
DNA evidence has exonerated yet another person convicted of a crime he did not commit. Dwayne Allen Dail of North Carolina spent 18 years in prison after being convicted of breaking into a house and raping a 12-year-old girl, and then enduring the ordeal normally reserved for child molesters in prison--showing off the facial scars to prove it. After Dail exhausted the last of his court appeals, the evidence from his court trials was destroyed, leaving him hopeless and helpless in the face of a life sentence. At his original trial the prosecutor offered a plea bargain that would have meant he would serve only probation. But as he didn't commit the crimes alleged, why would he admit that he did? The prison door slammed shut on his life, seemingly forever. His son, who was in utero at the time of his arrest, grew up and turned 18 without his father being there for any of it. Finally, by a most fortunate quirk of fate, a box containing the girl's nightgown was discovered by two police officers who were reorganizing rooms at the station house. Nearly 20-year-old semen was found on the garment and rushed to a laboratory by Dail's advocates at the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence. The results were what Dail had known all along--he had been sent to prison by people who were sure of something they had no right to be sure about.
Dwayne Allen Dail is the 207th person--and counting--exonerated by DNA testing in the United States, including 15 who were on death row waiting to be executed. How many more are currently in prison cells with no hope of having a box of evidence turn up that legally could have been destroyed long ago? Why are so many people being convicted of crimes they did not commit? The answer is that there is no punitive recourse for the wrongly imprisoned. The laziness, sloppiness and downright dishonesty of prosecutors, jury members and judges goes unchecked. There is no accountability. They destroy a man's life with the same casualness they would use in choosing what's for dinner. Was there more compelling evidence against Dwayne Allen Dail than there was against O.J. Simpson? We don't think so. The concept of reasonable doubt, pushed nearly to the point of high camp in the Simpson trial, is more often totally ignored in the rush to throw away the key on the first person who stumbles into the prosecutorial trap.
For a remedy we do not seek lex talionis, as fair as that may seem. What's needed--nay, demanded--is for prosecutors, individual members of juries and judges to be opened up to civil lawsuit and subject to punitive damages in all cases where a person is convicted who did not actually commit the crime in question. This will make them think twice before they nonchalantly imprison and destroy the life and family of a man who committed no crime other than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. A place where lazy-minded vigilantes can snap up the first person who seems convenient. They can wreck other people's entire world's without a worry, but hang the sword of Damoclesian accountability over their heads and watch as they magically consider putting themselves in the other person's shoes and think just a little bit more whether the evidence is really that airtight.
"12 Angry Men" is not just a movie; it should be used as an industrial training film to show potential jurors what "innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt" really means. Dail may sue for compensation. And if there's any justice in the world, that compensation should come directly out of the pockets of the individuals who put him behind bars in the first place.
|Sue Jurors for Wrong Convictions
|ANOTHER LIFE SENTENCE
|Make Court Participants Liable
|Will Keep Them on Their Toes