February 28, 2004

Kerry's wrong about DNA and the death penalty. Asked in the California debate about his position on the death penalty, John Kerry served up this factoid:
[W]e have 111 people who have been now released from death row -- death row, let alone the rest of the prison system -- because of DNA evidence that showed they didn't commit the crime of which they were convicted.
The number 111 is (about) the number of death sentences overturned since 1973. But it's certainly not the number of persons shown by DNA evidence not to have committed the crime. According to the ACLU's website:
Although there has been much attention surrounding the use of DNA testing, only 13 death row inmates of 112 have been exonerated by use of DNA.
Here's what really happened (again according to the ACLU, which opposes the death penalty):
The vast majority of those exonerated were found innocent because someone came forward to confess committing the crime; key witness testimony was found to be illegitimate; or new evidence was found to support innocence.
Why are journalists, like Noam Sheiber at TNR, just repeating Kerry's factoid without checking its accuracy? Sheiber really should have taken two minutes to check the fact, because it played a big part in his comparison of Kerry to Edwards:
[O]n the death penalty, an issue that should have given Edwards an opportunity to highlight his cultural moderation, he got bogged down in vaguaries [sic] like "making our court system work" while Kerry cited the more than 100 people released from death row thanks to DNA evidence proving their innocence.
Finally, even when a conviction is overturned using DNA evidence, the DNA evidence doesn't necessarily "show[] they didn't commit the crime." It could very well simply be that without the DNA evidence that the prosecution relied on, there isn't sufficient evidence to convict. (Thus, the ACLU's use of words like "innocent" and "exonerated" are not accurate.)

UPDATE: Instapundit and CJR Campaign Desk are linking to this post. Still no word from Sheiber, though I've emailed him. Getting linked by Instapundit brought more visits to this blog in half a day than in the entire previous existence of this blog (that is, since January 14).

NOTE ADDED 5/24/07: I'm going back, rereading all my old posts to add labels. I just wanted to note that this is the first post of mine that got an Instapundit link.


John Althouse Cohen said...

The link to TNR post is dead.

Does TNR erase its defunct blogs from the web?

Ann Althouse said...

Amazing. Yes, you're right. The Scheiber texts is expunged from the web -- except for my exposure here.

Maybe Scheiber chose to delete his post since it was embarrassing to him. He should have updated and corrected it.