Does the Prosecution Win If Justice Loses?

As technology improves, there is a rising tide of exonerations. A large number facing the death penalty have been freed, and that is mainly attributable to respected and dedicated law firms and Innocence Projects delving into their cases and providing superior representation. Not all facing the death penalty are so fortunate. Many more innocent persons probably languish in prisons convicted of lesser crimes without the benefit of these legal angels. The question often arises, however, as to the role of the prosecution when substantial errors have occurred which challenge the very fairness of the convictions and suggest that a defendant may be innocent.

In fairness to prosecutors, they do not intentionally prosecute persons whom they believe to be innocent. They proceed with charges and trial, if necessary, and understandably seek to defend convictions against appeals, many of which are without merit. But, on the other hand, there are too many instances in which the prosecution fights against the means by which guilt can be affirmed or rejected -- such as DNA testing, or in which the prosecution defends against the indefensible and seeks to maintain the guilt of an innocent person. Such seems to be the case of George Souliotes.

Souliotes was convicted 16 years ago and is serving a life sentence without parole for killing his tenant and her two children during a fire that he allegedly set. I will not recite the long, tortuous history of this case, but suffice it to say that because of new scientific evidence, the California Attorney General has conceded that all of the indicators relied on by the prosecution's fire investigators to prove arson were faulty, and that there is in fact no scientific evidence whatsoever that the fire was arson. In short, the only evidence left to suggest guilt is the testimony of one witness who placed Souliotes at the scene. Two federal judges have ruled that her testimony was "not credible" and "simply unworthy of belief."

The Court further concluded that Mr. Souliotes is actually innocent, that no reasonable juror could find guilt based on the current evidentiary record, and that Mr. Souliotes' trial counsel provided ineffective assistance of counsel by failing to present a defense at his second trial. Nonetheless, the California Attorney General continues to aggressively fight to keep Mr. Souliotes, who is 72 years old and in poor health, in prison. To cling to a conviction under these circumstances does not serve the public. A win here for the prosecution would be a loss for justice.