Tuesday, June 12, 2007

I Humbly Disagree with One of My Favorite Authors

Just recently this commentary was posted in an online e-newsletter I receive every day, Levine Breaking News. Here is the copy:

*LBN-COMMENTARY By Scott Turow: This Friday a 33-year-old man named Juan Luna will go on trial for the murder of seven people in a Brown's Chicken restaurant in Palatine, Ill., on Jan. 8, 1993. The investigation of the murders, in which the victims' bloody corpses were discovered in the restaurant freezer, languished for more than a decade until Mr. Luna's DNA was identified in the saliva found on a chicken bone at the crime scene. Having spent some time over the years as a criminal defense lawyer, I find this use of DNA evidence somewhat ironic, even a bit perverse. When I was first exposed to the forensic use of DNA, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it was seen largely as a tool of the defense, usually resisted by prosecutors who feared manipulation of the underlying science. Ultimately, hundreds of people around the country were able to demonstrate they had been wrongly convicted, and those successes led prosecutors to realize that the same DNA tests -- and experts -- could also provide evidence that guilty people had been walking around free for years. The Brown's Chicken case is but one of hundreds of "cold cases" now being resolved by advances in forensic technology, particularly DNA testing. Greater accuracy in the truth-finding process is a laudable development. But I worry that the growing capacity of today's forensics to reach farther and farther into the past seems likely to undermine the law's time-ingrained notions, embodied in statutes of limitations, about how long people should be liable to criminal prosecution.

As much as I love Scott Turow and respect his work and his writings, I must humbly disagree with his premise. The statute of limitations never runs out on murder. And for good reason: a life has been taken and this egregious act means that a father will no longer be there for his family; that a daughter will never grow up to have her own family; and, that a victim’s family must live with the absence of a loved one every day of their lives.

I understand going back into history and plucking criminals out of their new lives must be a shock, and upsetting to his new family. Oh, well. He should have thought about this before he decided to divorce himself from personal responsibility and moral conduct.

Your view?

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Charlie said...

I think he has a point, but it's not a great example.
Nobody can argue against a cold-blooded killer getting caught at last. If he's a reformed character, he can tell it to the Parole Board.
On the other hand, long-forgotten minor crimes should just be left alone.
I think in real life this will happen anyway, since there isn't enough money or resources to reopen cold cases unless they were very serious. It sounds nice and easy to match a few DNA samples, but there's still the enormous undertaking of tracking down all of the old witnesses and proving the whole thing in court.

Andrea Campbell said...

Thanks for leaving your comment Charlie, you seem like a man who is thinking. And you are correct. I, too, would not like DNA to be used for old petty-type crimes. But, you know what? Cold case files are called that for a reason.

Just as in every other industry, law enforcement is underpaid, overworked and understaffed.

We do have to keep our eye on technology however, as one day soon, DNA will be able to be typed with hand-held equipment and as fast as computer equipment will allow. Then we need to watch out for abuses.