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04-13-09, 02:09 PM #1
Reality show on DNA exoneration stirs ethics issues
For the first time, reality TV will explore the growing use of DNA evidence to exonerate the wrongly convicted, in a series that is raising ethical questions before its first episode airs this month.
Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins, who has assisted in the release of 10 wrongly convicted men since taking office in 2007, says the goal of Dallas DNA, scheduled for launch on Investigation Discovery on cable April 28, is to "make justice better by showing the good, the bad and the ugly."
Some legal analysts say the series could exploit the suffering of victims — including the wrongly convicted — in the name of entertainment.
"I'd find that very troubling," says Rob Warden, executive director of Northwestern University's Center on Wrongful Convictions. "I wholeheartedly favor calling attention to the innocence movement, and I'm delighted with what Craig Watkins has done while in office, but there are ethical obstacles that have to be negotiated very carefully."
Watkins denies that the series poses ethical risks or that he was motivated by politics. He says the public needs to see how the process works. "At the end of the day, it will build better trust," he says.
Investigation Discovery, part of Discovery Communications, focused on Texas because Dallas County has had more convicts exonerated after DNA testing than any county in the nation.
Since 2001, 19 people there have been exonerated based on DNA evidence, including some who served more than two decades in prison. Nationally, there have been 235 post-conviction DNA exonerations since 1989, according to the Innocence Project, a New York City-based group that uses DNA evidence to free the wrongly convicted.
"When you are talking about a person's personal freedom, there are no higher stakes," says Clark Bunting, president of Discovery's emerging networks. "This is shining a light in a dark corner."
Bunting and Christo Doyle, Dallas DNA's executive producer, say the series avoided ethical problems by letting Watkins view "rough cuts" of the six-part series in advance. If he felt the content breached attorney-client privilege, jeopardized pending cases or violated other legal rules, that material was cut, Bunting says.
Watkins says cameras and network employees were barred from meetings in which the district attorney and staffers decide whether to pursue the death penalty. Watkins has been reviewing about 40 death penalty convictions.
The first episode features the September exoneration of Johnnie Lindsey, 56, who was convicted in a 1981 rape case and spent 26 years in prison.
Blackburn, whose group had been approached to participate in a similar series by an undisclosed network, says he was concerned that his group would "have to stage things" to appeal to an audience. "We couldn't produce what they wanted," he says.
Watkins says the criticism may reflect his colleagues' disappointment at failing to win their own TV deals. "Obviously," he says, "we're doing good work here, and I'm benefiting politically from it."
By Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY
Reality show on DNA exoneration stirs ethics issues - USATODAY.com
04-13-09, 02:53 PM #2
Ethics? It's all public record. Geez, to me it's no worse than showing idiots eating earthworms for money....
Personally, I think it's great that people are being released after being wrongly convicted. I'd sure hate like hell to be stuck in prison for a big chunk of my life for something I didn't do. It's a credit to the justice system that we work just as hard to exonerate people as we do to convict them. It sure ain't that way in most countries....When I used to be somebody (I'm center top)
"A burning desire for social justice is never a substitute for knowing what you're talking about". -Thomas Sowell-
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