It is being proposed by Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy that new evidence that may free a convicted criminal in Michigan be presented before the one year anniversary of the conviction. After that, a claim can not be filed if the exculpatory evidence would have been discovered if the convict’s lawyer had done a good job.
Ask Dwayne Provience what this would have meant to him. He was convicted in 2001 of killing Rene Hunter on a crowded intersection in northwest Detroit. There where plenty of witnesses at the time of the shooting. One of the witnesses was an off duty police officer. None of the witnesses were called by Provience’s lawyer, who has since been disbarred. A memo in police files that pointed to a drug gang as the likely killers wasn’t discovered until 8 years later, then only by accident.
It is an arguable point that even if the new rules were in place a court would still consider the new evidence. But, for some people who trust their lawyers but find they do a terrible job, the rule changes would cancel all hope.
Worthy’s argument is that our system of justice needs finality. When someone is convicted, the public needs to have closure on the issue. She also argues that by allowing appeals to extend into the future endlessly, it pulls resources away from current cases.
Worthy is right about the need for finality. If the appeals are based on procedure instead of evidence, a one year cut off could be appropriate. After examining the proceedings of any case for a year, we should be certain about the conviction. This would save valuable resources for current cases, especially when budgets are stressed because of an economic down turn.
New exculpatory evidence should be treated differently, even after many years. If the evidence is minor and doesn’t challenge any of the other evidence or circumstances, a quick examination would dispense with it. In the case of Provience, when the witnesses and evidence never came to light in court because of a bad lawyer, to continue to hold him without a close look would be a crime in itself.
Yes, the community needs finality about specific convictions. The closure that a conviction brings provides relief to the grieving and security to the rest of us. But, by allowing a case to be challenged with new evidence also gives us the certainty that if we as a community do happen to make a mistake we can correct it.
This is justice.