Later this month, a new reality-TV show will begin to air on the Discovery channel, called "Dallas DNA." Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins is supportive of this new show; he's quoted in USA Today as saying it " '...makes justice better by showing the good, the bad and the ugly.' " Meanwhile, the chief counsel to the Innocence Project of Texas, Jeff Blackburn, is quoted as believing that the show exists merely to boost Watkins' political career.
What is "Dallas DNA"?
The show itself focuses upon the use of DNA testing to discover individuals wrongfully convicted, particularly those on death row. Law students working with the Innocence Project of Texas, and presumably those working with District Attorney Watkins, will be the series' new reality stars. Their work will be filmed and televised for a profit.
Remember, this is a reality TV show. As is "Survivor," "Amazing Race," and "Dancing With the Stars."
What is The Innocence Project?
The Innocence Project has become internationally known for its successful exoneration of innocent men and women across the country. One well-known Florida case involved the exoneration of Frank Lee Smith after he had served 14 years on Florida's Death Row. The work of the Innocence Project of Florida successfully exonerated Smith of the rape and murder of an eight year old girl using DNA evidence. Unfortunately, Mr. Smith died before he was fully exonerated, and never had the opportunity to enjoy the freedom for which he had been wrongfully denied those many years.
Another Example of an Overzealous and Greedy Media Overstepping their Bounds
You read my earlier posts regarding trial by media and media witch hunts. I'm extremely concerned about the media's blatant exploitation of high profile criminal cases for their own profit-motive, and how this harms our basic constitutional rights.
Learning of this new reality-TV show only adds fuel to this fire. Remember, this isn't a documentary of the Innocence Project's work. No. This is a profit-making machine, seeking to boost the ratings of the Discovery Channel.
And, while shining more light onto injustice is to be applauded, as a criminal defense attorney I have to wonder about the risks involved with filming these investigations as they are transpiring. Errors can occur. Bias can be created.
It's reported that District Attorney Watkins is reviewing all the film for ways the pending legal cases could be jeopardized (such as any breaches of the attorney-client privilege) - but that doesn't seem like it's enough, that's more like closing the barn door after the horse is gone.
Imagine the comfort that gives to defendants and defense counsel: the prosecutor is checking to make sure things like privilege have been protected. Right.
From a defense perspective, this isn't a tough call: having reality television involved in the attempts to exonerate a man or woman facing death on any state's death row is very inappropriate, legally dangerous, and just plain wrong.