10/13/07 — Imperfect justice: Dail case requires us to make the system better

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Imperfect justice: Dail case requires us to make the system better

Hearing a story like Dwayne Dail’s makes anyone with a sense of compassion and justice think twice about how evidence is collected in this country — and the possibility that there might be more people in jail right now for crimes they did not commit.

Dail spent 18 years in prison after being convicted of rape and other charges. Many years later, he was cleared — with a DNA test that indicated that he could not possibly have been the man who assaulted a 12-year-old girl all those years ago.

And now, he is free, pardoned and trying to restart his life where he left off nearly two decades ago. And that cannot be an easy task. How do you go back and pick up your life when it stopped so abruptly? How do you go on?

A case like that makes you think.

So, when questions are raised about fairness and how to make sure justice is done, it would behoove all of us to listen — and to think about what kind of system we want.

Increasing offerings in technology have made it easier than ever to test evidence to see if a suspect can be connected to a crime.

Prosecutors and investigators no longer have to rely on the word of a witness or the hope that there will be a confession. They have many more weapons in their arsenal to make sure that the guilty are punished and the innocent go free.

And we need to keep pushing for more procedures, more support for investigators and more resources to allow us to determine who should be in a courtroom and who shouldn’t.

We need to realize how tough it really is to find the guilty party — not just a suspect. Real police work is not like “CSI: Miami.” No case can really be wrapped up in a 60-minute episode.

Dail, who has every right to be bitter, has decided that he is not going to waste another second of his life. He is going to go to school to learn how to be one of those people who does the tests that prove guilt or support innocence.

And he is talking to those who currently do the work about how important their jobs are.

He can tell them that simply by relating his own story.

And as we work to make justice more efficient, we can also make responses to victims’ pain and suffering more immediate, too. As we work to perfect our investigations and prosecutions, we can also make sure victim support services get the money and resources they need. We can support stiffer sentences for repeat offenders and devote more money and manpower to getting cases cleared and real criminals behind bars.

We won’t fix the justice system overnight — and there will be more Dwayne Dails in the future. This is not a perfect science. But if we learn something that keeps even one man out a jail cell who does not belong there, or brings a criminal to justice sooner, we have made a difference.

But first, we have to look at the issue with an eye for improvement.

Dwayne Dail’s case has given local law enforcement and judges and lawyers a chance to do just that.

Published in Editorials on October 13, 2007 11:51 PM