In “Why We Can’t Let Rural Prosecutors Fly Under the Radar” in Filter, Rory Fleming uses Monroe County (Rochester, NY) District Attorney Sandra Doorley, who he says “charges more people with felonies than some DAs in counties twice Monroe County’s size,” as an example of a small-county prosecutor who, despite her enthusiasm for harsh sentencing and questionable tactics, wins reelection because reform-minded opponents don’t receive the funding or the support progressive candidates in larger metropolitan areas do. If “Big Philanthropy” were to start funding “rural races where the money would likely have a transformative impact . . . it could truly tear up the fabric of the carceral American justice system,” Fleming writes.
In “Death Penalty Opponents Gain Unlikely Allies: Republicans” in Pew’s Stateline, David Montgomery looks a how a “a growing number of elected Republicans are now breaking with partisan orthodoxy to not only oppose the death penalty but also help lead efforts to repeal it in more than a half-dozen states.” Noting that Republican-sponsored repeal bills have been introduced in at least eight states, Montgomery says they are motivated by the high cost, its ineffectiveness as a deterrent, and the “moral incongruity” between the GOP’s pro-life stance and the “taking of a life.”
In his Slate piece, “Democratic Presidential Candidates Should Promise to Appoint This Kind of Judge to the Federal Courts” Kyle C. Barry writes that, “Too few judges have any experience representing indigent criminal defendants, and without more public defenders on the bench, the rights of criminal defendants can never be fully secured.” He notes that the late Thurgood Marshall, who retired from the Supreme Court in 1991, was the last justice with experience representing indigent criminal defendants, and that “There is now real opportunity to start a new narrative around judicial selection, one that rejects the stigma attached to public defenders and the mythical neutrality of prosecutors. The right to counsel itself could depend on it.”
In “The Myth of Fingerprints” in Smithsonian Magazine, Clive Thompson compares the belief in the early 20th-century that, “fingerprints were an inviolable, immutable truth,” with the assessment of DNA evidence, which “has received a slightly higher level of skepticism.” While it has been used to free hundreds of prisoners, and while Science magazine described DNA analysis as the “gold standard,” for forensic evidence, Thompson writes, “DNA identification, like fingerprinting, can be prone to error when used sloppily in the field.” Noting that, “The courts have already recognized the dangers of badly managed DNA identification,” Thompson says, “to keep DNA from being abused we’ll have to behave like good detectives — asking the hard questions, and demanding evidence.”