For New Englanders concerned with criminal justice issues, it seems all too easy to take potshots at our neighbors to the south: to criticize the widespread and apparently reckless application of the death penalty in Texas, the poor quality of indigent defense in Mississippi, the decrepit state of the prison system in Louisiana. Indeed, the term “Southern justice,” when bandied about in the Northeast, carries with it a strong sense of moral condemnation about practices in the South. The use of this term implies that somehow, someway we do it better “up North.”
But when one looks carefully at criminal justice in New England, it is not entirely clear that we do it better. Consider a few recent events from Massachusetts. Earlier this year the Legislature passed a bill providing for post-conviction access to DNA testing for criminal defendants with biological evidence in their cases. A commendable development, to be sure, but the Bay State was a late arrival to this particular party, representing the 49th state in the nation to enact such a statute. Only Oklahoma remains without a post-conviction DNA testing law.