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Certainty vs. Finality: Constitutional Rights to Postconviction DNA Testing

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posted on 01.07.2011, 00:00 authored by Jay AronsonJay Aronson

At least in theory, the American criminal justice system is designed to ensure that innocent men and women are not wrongfully committed for crimes that they did not commit. Constitutional and procedural safeguards abound. American citizens enjoy the right to a jury trial, the right to remain silent upon questioning by the state, the right to legal counsel, the right to examine all of the state's evidence before trial, the right to cross-examine opposing witnesses, as well as an overarching right to due process. Convicted prisoners also have the right to challenge a conviction if any constitutional rights were denied during trial, and also to seek clemency from the executive authority of the jurisdiction in which they were convicted.

Despite these safeguards, defense lawyers and civil liberties advocates have been arguing for years that the American legal system is in fact fundamentally unfair and unjust. Because of power and resource imbalances, federal and state prosecutors win convictions against individuals who did not commit the crimes for which they were on trial. As a result, thousands of actually innocent people may be languishing in prisons and death rows around the country

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01/07/2011

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