Sunday, January 29, 2006

More on the Carpitcher case and how the courts deal with recanted testimony

Laurence Hammack has this very interesting article in the Roanoke paper, with a broader view of the issue from the Carpitcher case, and concludes that other states are more liberal than Virginia in their willingness to overturn a criminal conviction where witnesses change their stories.

The article says in part: "Courts across the country have been wary of recanted testimony. Some witnesses might take back their testimony out of guilt for incarcerating a family member, the argument goes, and others might be pressured by people loyal to the defendant.

The problem, critics say, is when the skepticism goes too far -- as some say it did in Carpitcher's case."

The article also notes:

"Since Virginia loosened the state's 21-day rule, no one who claimed to be innocent has found a way through the narrow opening created by the General Assembly. . . . Although there is no longer a time limit on newly discovered evidence, the law places a number of other criteria on innocence claims. Among them is that when considering the new evidence, 'no rational trier of fact could have found proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.'"

The article cites Tucker Martin, the spokesman for Attorney General McDonnell, as saying that the bar for overturning convictions based on new evidence must be high, and the difficulty convicted defendants have experienced in obtaining writs of innocence shows that the law is working as it should.

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