Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?

Our mission is to reverse the trend of mass incarceration in Colorado. We are a coalition of nearly 7,000 individual members and over 100 faith and community organizations who have united to stop perpetual prison expansion in Colorado through policy and sentence reform.

Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.

If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Trashing the Truth

What happens when DNA evidence ends up destroyed? Should DNA and evidence be handled independently? Here's the first of a four part series....

The proof of Clarence Moses-EL's guilt or innocence may well have been written in DNA code on two bedsheets, a sexual-assault kit and a pink and black outfit worn by a Denver rape victim.

From prison, he won a judge's permission to test the evidence and persuaded fellow inmates to pitch in $1,000 for the lab work.

Denver police packaged the items and labeled the box "DO NOT DESTROY."

Then, they threw it in a dumpster.

The move violated a court order and the Denver Police Department's own evidence policies.

More than 19 years after his conviction, Moses-EL remains behind bars, with no way to free himself from a 48-year sentence for a rape he says he didn't commit.


Trashing the Truth

is one of 141 prisoners The Denver Post has found whose bids for freedom have stalled because officials lost or destroyed DNA. Whether guilty or innocent, they are victims of a U.S. Supreme Court decision justifying negligence in evidence handling. The ruling allows destruction unless inmates can meet the nearly impossible task of proving authorities acted out of malice, or "bad faith."

Nearly two decades after the 1988 decision, DNA analysis has evolved into criminal justice's most reliable tool for uncovering the truth. Yet the system continues trashing samples like the ones that so far have exposed more than 200 wrongful convictions.

"They broke their own rules and threw out the only key to my freedom," Moses-EL said from Kit Carson Correctional Facility in Burlington. "If that ain't bad faith, man, I don't know what is."

Nationwide, the specter of bad faith looms over scores of criminal cases, from unsolved murders to innocence bids such as that of Tim Masters, another Colorado inmate featured last week in The Denver Post.

For four days, the paper will detail how the system routinely mishandles biological evidence, undermining justice for victims and prisoners and allowing criminals

The law on whether authorities have a constitutional duty to preserve evidence predates the 1990s, when use of DNA became widespread in criminal justice.

Critics liken the 1988 Arizona vs. Youngblood ruling to one of the U.S. Supreme Court's most notorious.

"It's the Dred Scott decision of modern times," said forensic scientist Ed Blake, referring to the 1857 opinion holding that Congress had no authority to prohibit slavery.The Denver Post


Gritsforbreakfast said...

In Texas most of the exonerations have come in Dallas and the main reason is they kept their old DNA evidence. Nobody thinks there aren't similar cases in Houston, Austin, San Antonio, and elsewhere in the state. But the DNA evidence doesn't exist to test, or there was never any in the first place.

In Houston, the DA requires defendants to agree to destruction of evidence as part of a guilty plea, even in capital cases! So if an innocent person takes a plea to avoid the death penalty, they can't later prove it wasn't them when new technology would allow testing. Nice, huh?

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