Cornelius Dupree celebrated the beginning of 2011 by being released from a 30-year wrongful imprisonment.
The 51-year-old had been barely past his teenage years the last time he rang in the new year as a free man. The DNA evidence that led to his exoneration demonstrated that his imprisoned adulthood had been based upon a case of mistaken identity.
Witness misidentification is the largest contributor to wrongful convictions, said Paul Cates, communications director for the Innocence Project. Requiring police lineups to be double-blind can help combat it.
Lawmakers in Texas, where Dupree was convicted and the nation's leader in exonerations based on DNA evidence, approved a bill in April that will enact lineup regulations that include requiring that they be double-blind.
Though DNA evidence has demonstrated the prevalence of mistakes in the system and how to avoid them, it has also proven useful in retroactively correcting them.
In Florida, The Brevard County Sheriff’s department announced Monday that the DNA evidence clearing William Dillon of the murder conviction for which he served 27 years in prison has now led them to four possible suspects.
If the final four yields new answers to this 30-year-old question, Dillon’s case will join 122 others nationally in which DNA evidence has both exonerated the person initially convicted and has led to a different suspect, according to the Innocence Project’s website. That figure makes up a little less than half of 272 post-conviction exonerations DNA evidence has led to since 1989, the national organization based in New York reports. And still more people who have been convicted of crimes and their families feel that DNA evidence would prove their innocence.
“We have a huge back load of people writing to us to ask for assistance,” said Paul Cates, communications director for the Innocence Project.
According to the organization’s website, Florida, where Dillon was convicted, is tied with Virginia for third place in the number of DNA-based exonerations.
With thirteen exonerations, they rank behind New York (27), Illinois (31) and Texas, which has exonerated 43 prisoners.
But using DNA evidence to free the wrongfully imprisoned is only part of the organization’s objective. The other part is lobbying for changes in criminal investigations that would prevent wrongful convictions in the first place. The biggest reason for wrongful convictions, Cates said, is eyewitness misidentification, but another concern is thin forensic evidence that is improperly viewed as scientific truth.
“There’s a lot of things that pass as forensic science out there,” Cates said.
This problem played into Dillon's conviction, which was partially based upon the testimony of a dog handler who was later discredited.
Cates said another big investigative problem Innocence Project also works to combat is interrogations that lead to false confessions. Requiring that interrogations be recorded can help achieve this, he said. Of those top five exoneration states, only Illinois has a law requiring interrogations to be recorded.