Imagine your family member was the victim of a rape. Police arrested a man found near the scene and held him in jail for nearly two years before a long-delayed DNA test revealed that he was not the rapist. By that time, the chances of finding the true perpetrator were greatly diminished.
This very scenario played out in North Carolina last week, as the News & Observer of Raleigh reported. Elio Santos de la Cruz had been in the Johnston County jail since June 2011 while prosecutors waited for the State Crime Laboratory to return the results of DNA tests. The tests revealed that de la Cruz was not the rapist.
Defense lawyers say these kinds of wait times for DNA tests are the norm in North Carolina. This not only means that innocent people are sometimes held in jail for months or years, but that justice is delayed — or denied altogether — for victims.
This problem is epidemic in our state, even in cases of murder. About 12 percent of people who are charged with first-degree murder are eventually released without ever being tried. Many innocent people languish in jail for months or years before prosecutors discover they don’t have enough evidence to prosecute them. Meanwhile, the true killers continue to roam the streets.
Earlier coverage from North Carolina begins at the link.