On Being (Mis)Cited by the Supreme Court

From the NY Times.

Nor was Justice Kennedy’s brief quotation from “Actual Innocence” especially punctilious. Here is how the justice rendered it, including his brackets and ellipses: “[P]rompt [DNA] testing … would speed up apprehension of criminals before they commit additional crimes, and prevent the grotesque detention of … innocent people.”

Those first three dots covered a lot of ground. They took the place of more than six sentences and suggested a different point than the one the authors were making. The original passage concerned evidence collected at crime scenes, not from people who might be connected to it.

“What we were saying had nothing to do with post-arrest testing of suspects,” said Jim Dwyer, a co-author of the book who is now a columnist for The New York Times. “We were arguing that all evidence should be tested, whether or not a suspect had been charged.”

Mr. Neufeld agreed. “The ‘prompt testing’ is referring to something completely different than the latter phrase,” he said. “Barry, Jim and I never endorsed arrestee databases.”

The omission of two words with the second set of dots is easier to understand. The authors had written that testing could prevent “the grotesque detention of thousands of innocent people.” Justice Kennedy apparently did not want to endorse the possibility that the criminal justice system had such widespread shortcomings. (The Innocence Project, which is affiliated with the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York, says that more than 300 prisoners have been exonerated using DNA.)

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