a bird and a bottle


DNA Evidence Exonerates Man After 22 Years
April 2, 2007, 9:31 am
Filed under: criminal justice, law, news

Via TalkLeft, I read of yet another case where DNA evidence has exonerated a man wrongly convicted of rape.

Anthony Capozzi of Buffalo, NY, was convicted of rape in 1987 and sentenced to 11 to 35 years. He was 28 at the time of his conviction; he’s 50 now. At the time of his conviction, DNA evidence was not admissible in court. More than that, Capozzi was identified by not one but three women who claimed that he was their assailant. But at today’s hearing, DNA evidence will prove that it was not Capozzi who committed the rapes of which he was convicted.

Erie County District Attorney Frank J. Clark is expected to present Troutman DNA test results from the county’s crime lab. Those tests show that DNA in slides taken from the rape victims matches that of the man charged as the Bike Path Killer, Altemio Sanchez.

Of course, this is a double edged sword. The more this happens, the more people will doubt the claims of women that they have been raped, and that they have been raped by certain people. The flip side is that cases like this one reinforce the shakiness of eyewitness IDs for any and every offense. According to the Innocence Project, eyewitness misidentification took place in 75% of the wrongful convictions that the organization has been involved in overturning. The number is even higher when the defendant is Black or Latino and the victim is White.

The solution? A jury instruction that makes clear the risks of eyewitness identifications and their unreliability. Mandatory DNA testing whenever DNA is available. At least it’s a start.

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6 Comments so far
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I think you get this exactly right. Today, cases like this should become progressively rarer as taking DNA samples has become the norm in rape cases.

Comment by professorplum

On the contrary, it’s likely to make it harder to cast doubt on victims’ claims. A big reason why people don’t always believe victims is that in rape cases it’s relatively hard to establish that a crime took place but relatively easy to establish the identity of the alleged perpetrator. Like murders, rapes tend to be committed by nonstrangers; unlike murders, rapes tend to leave the victim alive to pinpoint her assailant. And unlike assaults and robberies, rape cases don’t feature money missing and often the victim has no visible injuries. So in a way, everything that shifts attention to identifying the perpetrator is good.

Comment by Alon Levy

Fair points, Alon. But let me make sure I understand them correctly: the fact that eyewitness IDs are so shaky will not hurt rape victims because we can use DNA evidence to both validate their claims and identify their assailants instead?

That makes rational sense….of course, or criminal justice system and juries in particular are not entirely rational.

Comment by bean

That’s part of the argument. Another part is that absent DNA evidence, defense attorneys will say that the eyewitnesses made a mistaken identification rather than that the victim consented; that won’t increase the number of convictions, but will make it somewhat easier psychologically to report rape.

Comment by Alon Levy

Ok, I see. I think you’re right that the focus on mistaken IDs could actually take some of the heat off of rape victims. But I still think that even an allegation of a mistaken identification jars a woman who has gotten the guts up to testify in an open courtroom that she has been raped. So I agree that it may shift the focus to IDs rather than the truth of the rape claim, but I’m not so sure it will actually make reporting any easier (a splitting of hairs, but perhaps an important one?)

Comment by bean

[…] and who have spent up to 30 years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit. DNA can be as powerful a tool for defendants as it is for prosecutors. But NY’s plan – for all the talk of equanimity – goes too […]

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