Former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno will be in Iowa City Sunday for a panel discussion on the death penalty. Reno — who served under President Clinton — spoke with reporters in a conference call and said she’ll talk about the use of D-N-A evidence to clear people of crimes.
Reno says over 160 people have been exonerated or their cases have been thrown out as the evidence was thrown out through D-N-A testing. She says there are other cases where people have been proven innocent through other means other than D-N-A. Reno says in 80-percent of the cases — D-N-A would not be a factor.
D-N-A tests recently upheld the conviction of a man who was put to death in Virginia — causing some to say it hurts the case of those against the death penalty. Reno says though this is not a debate over strictly the death penalty — it’s a debate over getting the prosecution right. She says, “What we see here are examples wrongful convictions and exonerations that could easily have applied to the death penalty cases as to another case. The real issue is what can we do to use the evidence in the in the wrongful conviction that has been proven to see what we can do to avoid it in death penalty cases or in other cases in the future.”
Reno says one way to avoid wrongful prosecution is to create a committee made up of everyone involved to look over cases. Reno says that’s what she did. She says the major reason they found for a wrongful conviction was that someone made a wrong identification. She says they don’t intend to make an error, but they do misidentify the person who committed the crime. Reno says prosecutors can also get tunnel vision and focus in on one subject after an identification is made. She says that’s why her office came up with some specific guidelines for police lineups.
She says the person who conducts the lineup shouldn’t know the person who is the suspected perpetrator, so the person conducting the lineup doesn’t influence the victim’s decision. Reno says while D-N-A can help sort things out — she says the evidence has to be handled properly to ensure a fair result.
Reno says they have to develop standards for crime labs across the country so D-N-A is used effectively and not put in doubt by lab processes that’re inadequate or incomplete. Reno will appear on the panel Sunday and will be joined on the panel by death-penalty advocate Chuck Larson Senior , the U.S. District Attorney for the northern district of Iowa; David Baldus of the U-of-I law faculty; and Kirk Bloodsworth, the first death-row inmate exonerated by D-N-A evidence. The discussion is Sunday at three p.m. at Hancher Auditorium.