False accusation leads to death penalty
Published: Monday, October 3, 2011
Updated: Monday, October 3, 2011 10:10
Accused criminals aren't necessarily innocent until proven guilty. They're simply granted a legal principal known as ‘presumption of innocence.'
According to the U.S. Supreme Court, this principal basically means innocent due to lack of evidence. The government can't prove any guilty charges beyond a reasonable doubt. The accused is then treated as innocent and, if jailed, set free.
This ‘due process' requirement is full of legal jargon and can get quite complicated to understand. But here's one simple fact: No one would ever be on trial unless they were believed to be guilty of a crime. It doesn't matter who accuses you—an eyewitness, a crime victim, a prosecutor, a police officer—you're guilty because someone believes you are.
In 1989, someone believed Troy Anthony Davis was guilty of shooting police officer Mark MacPhail in Savannah, Ga.
And for that, Davis was ultimately executed on Sept. 21, 2011.
Death by lethal injection at 42 years old.
Absent was this practice of ‘presumption of innocence.' The lack of physical evidence in the case was ignored. The false testimony from seven eyewitnesses went through one ear and out the other. The lingering doubt of if Davis was truly guilty was simply overlooked.
Davis should have been granted a new trial. But in a March 2008 ruling, the Georgia Supreme Court refused to give him one. In 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a federal judge to grant a hearing on new evidence, but the court set an impossible standard: Davis had to prove his innocence. The Georgia Board of Pardon and Paroles refused to change its mind and, according to CNN reports, hasn't done so in the past 33 years.
President Obama refused to get involved in the case, and this month the country saw a man on death row exhaust all of his efforts to battle a justice system that proclaimed him guilty from the beginning. In a nation where racial tension is very much still prevalent, one must wonder if the race card has to be played. Was a black man on death row convicted of a crime because his victim was white?
While civil rights have made historical strides and the legal system fights for the wrongfully convicted, this is a question still asked in our communities.
Although the law says that presumed innocence is essential to the criminal process and practiced by judges and juries, through and through, the alternative to a presumption of innocence—a presumption of guilt—is hard to reject after researching the case of Troy Davis.
Just as false eyewitness memory and wrongful convictions still exist, the death penalty may never be abolished. It will be important for those exercising any certain amount of power and authority in the criminal justice system to carefully examine these acts, and to make sure skin color and character judgment are not the foundation of legal decisions.
As a young woman spending most of my life in the South, and now as member of the Chicago-Roosevelt University community, I reject the ‘guilty until proven innocent' principal as inquisitorial and contrary to the principles of a free society. I join other students in a commitment to social justice and equality. I value civil respect and have a continued hope that all citizens are battling for change, especially if there is a sense of wrongdoing and mistake.
Despite the heartbreaking reality that 22 years ago a police officer lost his life, there is a continued sadness that perhaps the wrong man died for that crime. I'm sure anyone, despite where they live or what they look like would agree that no comfort will ever be gained from that outcome.