10/12/07 — Dail case won't affect eyewitness--based cases

View Archive

Dail case won't affect eyewitness--based cases

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on October 12, 2007 2:36 PM

Since the late 1990s, scrutiny of the reliability of eyewitness testimony and police lineups reached the likes of former Attorney General Janet Reno.

And when Dwayne Allen Dail was exonerated in August, eyewitness reliability came to the forefront in a Wayne County Superior Court.

Dail was released from Nash County Correctional Institute after spending 18 years in prison for a rape he did not commit. The 12-year-old victim identified Dail as her attacker, but DNA evidence later proved he could not have been the suspect.

So what effect, if any, does such a revelation have on future prosecutions?

District Attorney Branny Vickory said Dail's case would not rule out future use of eyewitness testimony or identifications.

"I haven't said specifically that we wouldn't prosecute any type of rape case," Vickory said.

But the prosecutor said evidence standards have been increasing anyway in the years since DNA testing became available.

"I think the reality is, since DNA has come along, we have pretty much demanded some sort of corroboration in some of these cases," Vickory said.

Vickory said Dail's particular case was a good example.

"I don't know that we would have tried that case today, the way we did, without having a little bit more corroboration," the district attorney said.

But he also said with new science, it's easier for him to say that.

"Today, we would have had the DNA to have exonerated that guy," Vickory said. "We had all the technology, you had the hair."

But new science isn't the only factor that is setting a higher standard for Vickory and his fellow prosecutors these days, he said.

"Prosecutors nationwide call it the CSI effect," Vickory said, referring to the CBS television show "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation." Three versions of the show are consistently rated highly on the network.

Make-believe crime scene investigators on the show rely on identification technologies that seem fast-paced, especially when set to music.

And not all of those depictions of crime science are exactly accurate, Vickory said.

"People think you can put a little evidence in a machine, and it'll just pop a name out. It's just not like that."

But despite jurors' seeming demand for to-the-letter scientific techniques that prove who is guilty, Vickory says science is not his only tool.

Plain old police work will do the job as well, the district attorney said.

"It's not always scientific corroboration -- it might be other witnesses," he said.

Wayne County Sheriff Carey Winders, for his part, said if his detectives feel they have their man or woman, they will obtain the proper warrants.

"We're going to keep charging them," Winders said. "Let the courts sort it out."