Troy Davis and the Lessons Research Paper

Pages: 15 (4975 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 6  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Criminal Justice  ·  Buy This Paper

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[. . .] The idea of someone confessing to a crime they didn't commit, especially for something as serious as murder or rape, seems improbable to most people who have never been arrested and interrogated by the police. What isn't commonly realized is that police interrogations are designed to be psychologically coercive. For example, the length of time a suspect spends in the interrogation room can have a significant impact on whether a false confession is elicited. Interrogations lasting longer than 4-6 hours are generally considered coercive, which would explain why 73% of 125 proven false confessions involved interrogation sessions lasting between 6 and 24 hours (reviewed by Kassin et al., 2010, p. 16). The coercive nature of these interrogations is increased when police introduce false evidence, false witness testimony, and even fake DNA evidence, in order to pressure the suspect to confess. In addition, many suspects are arrested in the middle of the night and are therefore already sleep and food deprived before spending hour after hour in an interrogation room.

The race or ethnic background of suspects has long been known to play a significant role in how the criminal justice system selects defendants. The racial compositions of the 273 people who were wrongfully convicted and then cleared using DNA evidence were 29.7% Caucasian and 60.1% African-American (The Innocence Project, 2011). According to the 2010 Census data the racial composition of the United States was 72.4% Caucasian and 12.8% African-American (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011), which implies that African-Americans are over 11 times more likely to be wrongfully convicted of rape or murder than Caucasians.

Police and prosecutors are both susceptible to 'tunnel vision', which is a state of mind whereby an investigator becomes so convinced of a suspect's guilt that other suspects and inconsistent evidence are discounted or ignored (reviewed by Gould and Leo, 2010, p. 851). In addition, the police may 'forget' to give the prosecutor exculpatory evidence, or the prosecutor may withhold what he or she considers to be irrelevant evidence that the defense team would see as potentially exculpatory. Oversights such as these are occasionally intentional (reviewed by Gould and Leo, 2010, pp. 854-855). The most common form of prosecutorial misconduct uncovered by the use of DNA to obtain exonerations was the failure to turn over exculpatory evidence to the defense.

Given all the ways the government can tip the scales of justice in its favor, it seems remarkable that so many police chiefs (41%) and prosecutors (47.8%) still claim that wrongful convictions do not occur in their jurisdictions (Zalman, Smith, and Kiger, 2008, p. 83). It's hard not to wonder if tunnel vision is more endemic in these jurisdictions, when compared to jurisdictions that admit their record isn't perfect.

Case Study: Troy Anthony Davis

Most wrongful convictions can't be overturned by DNA evidence because DNA evidence wasn't recovered from the crime scene (Gould and Leo, 2010, p. 830). However, the same factors that contribute to the wrongful convictions that were later overturned by DNA analysis would be expected to contribute to all forms of wrongful convictions. These would include placing too much weight on eyewitness testimony, improper analysis, presentation, and interpretation of forensic evidence, false confessions, the use of informants, and prosecutorial misconduct. The Troy Davis case is one such example that was in the headlines recently, because his guilt was called into question after several eyewitnesses recanted their testimony.

Background

At 11:29 P.M. On August 18, 1989 a 9-1-1 call was received by the Savannah Police Department reporting shots fired in the Cloverdale neighborhood (U.S. District Court, Savannah Division, 2010, p. 3). A party was in progress, one which Troy Davis attended for a short period between 10:00 and 11:00 P.M. Shortly afterwards the police were notified that Michael Cooper had been admitted to a local hospital for a gunshot wound he sustained as he drove away from the party in the Cloverdale neighborhood. At 1:09 A.M. The Savannah Police received another 9-1-1 call reporting a shooting behind a Burger King near the Yamacraw neighborhood. Upon arrival the police discovered that Savannah Police officer Mark Allen MacPhail had been fatally shot while working as a part-time security guard in uniform.

Although the shooting in the Cloverdale neighborhood was suspected of being related to the fatal shooting behind the Burger King, the shooter was never positively identified, thus the case against Troy Davis centered on the fatal shooting of officer MacPhail and the conviction depended almost exclusively on eyewitness testimony.

The Trial

The prosecution's case rested on the testimony of 34 eyewitnesses, while the defense called 5 witnesses and had Troy Davis testify (U.S. District Court, Savannah Division, 2010, p. 41). The specter of prosecutorial misconduct emerged during the trial, after several witnesses testified that the police conducted photo lineups improperly and used coercion and coaching during witness interviews. Despite these irregularities, it took the jury only two hours to find Troy Davis guilty of murdering a police officer, aggravated assault, obstructing a police officer, and using a gun during the commission of a felony. What follows are some highlights from the eyewitness testimony.

Eyewitness Testimony

Mr. Young was sitting with a female companion behind the Burger King when they ran out of beer, so he went to a nearby market to purchase more. During the return trip he encountered Red Coles, who demanded a beer from Mr. Young. Mr. Young refused and an argument ensued, resulting in Mr. Young sustaining an injury to the head. Who inflicted the injury depends on who the witness is, but several alleged Troy Davis was the perpetrator (U.S. District Court, Savannah Division, 2010, pp. 42-83). What was generally agreed upon by the witnesses is the same person who struck Mr. Young in the head also shot officer MacPhail. Troy Davis alleged Red Cole struck Mr. Young, while Red Cole and a few of his friends alleged Troy Davis was the assailant.

After Mr. Young was struck in the head he ran to the open drive-through window to get help and shortly afterwards officer MacPhail came from behind the Burger King building. As officer MacPhail approached the shooter he was shot in the face and fell to the ground. The shooter then fired at officer MacPhail 2-3 more times before fleeing.

Red Coles' sister, Valerie Coles Gordon, claimed that Red came to her house and changed shirts shortly before Troy Davis showed up shirtless (U.S. District Court, Savannah Division, 2010, pp. 64-67). She then testified that Troy Davis asked Red for a shirt to borrow and Red gave him the one he had been wearing. Troy Davis tried it on and then quickly removed it, before returning it to Red. The sister stated that she washed the shirt the next day.

Troy Davis claims that he never went to Red Coles' sister's house, nor borrowed a shirt (U.S. District Court, Savannah Division, 2010, pp. 79-83). According to Troy Davis, he was in a pool hall waiting to play a game when he was informed that Red Coles had started an argument with a homeless person (Mr. Young). Mr. Davis went outside to try and intervene. Red Coles reportedly told Troy Davis to "shut the hell up." A friend of Red Coles (Mr. Collins) was also staying close to the group as they moved into the parking lot behind the Burger King restaurant, but when things appeared to spiral out of control Mr. Collins turned around and began to leave (U.S. District Court, Savannah Division, 2010, pp. 59-64). Mr. Davis then testified he heard Red Coles threaten the life of Mr. Young, so he tried to intervene again and was again rebuffed by Red Coles. Troy Davis testified that at this point he started walking back to the pool hall. He then saw Mr. Collins go running by, which urged him to start jogging, and when he looked back over his shoulder he saw a police officer walking into the Burger King parking lot. When he heard the gunshots he fled from the area before walking home.

Red Coles friends agreed that Red Coles had started the argument with Mr. Young and was wearing a yellow shirt. Red Coles friends also claimed that Troy Davis had been wearing a white shirt, had struck Mr. Young, and shot officer MacPhail. Two independent witnesses claimed that Red Coles was wearing a white shirt (Tanya Johnson) and shot officer MacPhail (Joseph Williams).

Testimony Irregularities

Darrel Collins was 16 years old at the time of the shooting and claimed that during the trial he was pressured by the police to state that Troy Davis was the shooter at the Cloverdale party (U.S. District Court, Savannah Division, 2010, p. 64). Mr. Collins claims the police pressured him to make this statement by not giving him an opportunity to call an attorney, proceeding with the interrogation before his parents arrived, telling him that he was a suspect in the Cloverdale shooting, and threatening him with incarceration.

The witness Benjamin Gordon, who was 16… [END OF PREVIEW]

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