Published August 12 2007
To the editor:
An article in the July 23 issue of The New York Times concerned a study by Brandon Garrett, a University of Virginia law professor, of 200 cases in which innocent persons were exonerated after serving an average of 12 years in prison.
DNA recently exonerated three men in Florida and an Illinois man after serving 20 years in prison. However, the study states that DNA is available in less than 20 percent of violent crimes. Fourteen of the 200 exonerated were sentenced to death. There is little doubt that innocent persons have been executed and will continue to be executed. Abolition of the death penalty would be the answer; however politicians do not have the courage to eliminate the death penalty.
It is my opinion that raising the burden of proof for conviction in capital cases from "beyond a reasonable doubt" to "absolute certainty" would virtually eliminate the execution of the innocent. This would result in fewer capital cases, as prosecutors would be reluctant to charge a capital case unless they were "absolutely certain" of guilt.
A retired Connecticut judge with 30 years of service, I have instructed juries in criminal cases in accord with the approved jury charges defining "reasonable doubt" as specifically not requiring "absolute certainty to convict."
Why not require "absolute certainty" in capital cases since there is no opportunity to correct a wrongful conviction after a person has been executed?
Legislators are afraid to be labeled soft on crime, and in most states the death penalty is popular. How can anyone label a legislator as being soft on crime for voting to require "absolute certainty" in order to execute?
I would urge legislatures, state and federal, to raise the burden of proof in capital cases from "beyond a reasonable doubt," which many jurors are unable to comprehend, to "absolute certainty," which everyone comprehends. Life without parole would still be available to prosecutors who do not believe they can meet the burden of "absolute certainty." This should also largely reduce lengthy appeals in capital cases.
Harold H. Dean