Rise of Wrongful Conviction
When our criminal legal system convicts innocent people, it does not serve justice. Instead, it creates more victims, while the actual perpetrator of the crime remains free to potentially further endanger society. If we pride ourselves in a system where individuals are innocent until proven guilty, we have an obligation to correct and prevent these devastating tragedies. Even one innocent person in prison is one too many. As the number of DNA exonerations has grown across the country in recent years, wrongful convictions have revealed disturbing fissures and trends in our criminal legal system. Together, these cases show us how the criminal justice system is broken and how urgently it needs to be fixed. In each case where DNA has proven innocence beyond doubt, an overlapping array of causes has emerged – from mistakes and misconduct to factors of race and class.
Contributing factors of wrongful convictions 1) Eyewitness Misidentification Eyewitness misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions. Over 75 percent of DNA exoneration cases have involved convictions based on mistaken identification evidence. A variety of factors can affect the reliability of an identification, mainly the simple fallibility of human memory 2) Unvalidated Forensic Science Forensic science is a useful tool, but many forensic disciplines apply techniques and methods that have not been approved by the scientific community. Unvalidated forensic science, such as hair and fiber comparison and bite-mark analysis, have played a role in over 50 percent of convictions later overturned by the use of DNA evidence, proving that there has to be higher standards for forensic testimony at trial. 3) False Confessions Innocent defendants have made incriminating statements, confessed, or plead guilty in approximately 25 percent of DNA exonerations. Multiple factors can contribute to false confessions, such as a defendant’s poor mental health and/or the use of coercive interrogation techniques. These factors result in an often threatened and confused defendant, who will confess to the crime in an attempt to relieve their current discomfort. 4) Jailhouse Informant Testimony In 15 percent of convictions later overturned using DNA evidence, the defendant was imprisoned because an jailhouse informant testified against them. Jailhouse informants often have incentives to lie on the stand in order to escape prosecution themselves or receive shorter sentences. Jailhouse informant testimony is especially dangerous when such incentives are not disclosed to the jury, so they do not understand it could be bias. It is important to regulate the use of incentivized informants as to reduce the possibility that these unreliable witnesses mislead judges and juries. 5) Police and Prosecutorial Misconduct While most prosecutors and law enforcement officials are honest and have the best intentions to protect society, the pressure to secure a conviction at times may lead police and prosecutors to act in an inappropriate, unfair, or unlawful manner. This government misconduct can include withholding or fabricating evidence, coercive interrogations by investigators, or suggestive methods used by police to obtain an identification. While police and prosecutorial misconduct is more likely in high profile cases with a great amount of press coverage, because law enforcement feels pressure to obtain a suspect. 6) Poor Defense Lawyering Defendants are guaranteed a right to counsel but an ineffective defense attorney can lead to the wrongful conviction of a factually innocent person. Inadequate defense lawyering can include the overall failure to prepare for trial, to investigate the crime and the defendant’s alibi, and to challenge witnesses and experts.
Cases of Wrongful Convictions The plight of wrongfully prosecuted was highlighted, for the first time, in the case of Hussainara Khatoon and Others v. Home Assistant State of Bihar, in 1979. The Supreme court took note of various articles published in Indian Express regarding the terrible conditions in the prisons of Bihar. The articles in the newspaper disclosed that several prisoners, including women and children, have been detained in the prisons as under-trials for at least 2-5 years. Out of them, most of the under-trials have been arrested for minor charges, the punishment of which would not be more than few months, however these detainees have been in the prison since 3 to 10 years. A writ petition of habeas corpus was filed in the Supreme Court which revealed a disturbing picture of under trials in the state of Bihar and challenged the administration of justice in the state. The Supreme Court admitted the petitions and ordered the Government of Bihar to submit an extensive report on the prisoners and the under-trials. The Apex Court pronounced a landmark judgment in his case and held that the right to speedy trial is an essential part of the administration of justice in any state. Further, this right is a constitutional right and it is the obligation of the state to ensure the protection of it. The Supreme Court said that ―Article 21 from the Constitution lays down that nobody shall be deprived of life or individual liberty except based on the procedure established legally. The procedure ought to be reasonable, fair and otherwise such deprivation will be illegal.‖ Mantoo Majumdar v. State of Bihar:-
It was found that two accused persons were serving as under trial prisoners in jail since seven years. It was also found that the charge sheet against them was never filled nor was any investigation conducted for the charges. Justice Krishna lyer, admonished the State of Bihar and held it as a gross violation of the constitutional mandate on right to liberty and directed the state to release the under trials on their own bond without sureties. The court condemned the inefficiency of the police in completing the investigation on time and the inhuman and mechanical attitude of the magistrates in following legal dictums, depriving the freedom of under trials and inability to observe the detention of the under trials extending beyond a reasonable period of time. The words of Hon‘ble Justice Iyer has been recapitulated here, ―Most grievous of all, the judicial officers concerned have routinely signed away orders of detention for years by periodically appending their incarceratory authorisations. We know not how many others are languishing in prison like the petitioners before us. 'If the salt hath lost its savour, wherewith shall it be salted? If the law officers charged with the obligation to protect the liberty of persons are mindless of constitutional mandates and the code's dictates, how can freedom survive for the ordinary citizen?
Veena Sethi v. State of Bihar:- The legal aid committee of Hazaribagh addressed a letter to Justice P.N. Bhagwati disclosing the most shocking and unfortunate incident in the history of humanity. The letter described the plight of 16 under-trial prisoners who were of unsound mind and most of them were detained in prison for more than ten years, without any legal aid given to them. Even after regaining their sanity these unfortunate souls were denied their rightful freedom. State versus Saqib Rehman and others: In this case from Delhi, State versus Saqib Rehman and Others(FIR No. 146 / 05; Police Station: Kapashera, New Delhi,) referred to above, the Additional Sessions Judge concluded that four police officers ―scripted‖ and assembled the case against the terror-accused. He also concluded that ― these four police officers have stigmatised the entire Delhi Police Force.‖ According to me, nothing more severe crime than this can be committed by a officer of police department , where a person who is an innocent is dragged in a malicious factual case. Order of filing an FIR against the police officials was passed by ―The Learned Sessions Judge.‖ Unfortunately, when this case was taken to high court by the police officials against this order, the High Court was of opinion that the police officials should at least have got one chance to get heard. And due to this order of the High Court only an administrative inquiry was conducted by the Commissioner of Police.
The judgment of the High Court is considered wrong because of the following grounds:
• The order of the sessions judge was the result of the cross-examination of the police officials. They took into consideration ever event and evidence. Moreover, police officials had an opportunity to prove their innocence during the proceedings. • When an inquiry and investigation was taking place as per the order of the sessions judge, the police officials had sufficient time to present their case ironically. • Sessions judge reached to a conclusion where the evidence was not only inadequate‘ but was also scripted. How can sessions judge cannot make negative remarks when it was already discovered that evidence was fabricated by the police officials
Serial Train Bombing Case 1993:-
A bomb was being exploded in few trains during night involving both 5th and 6th December, 1993. It took the lives of two individuals and wounded 22 people.16 people were prosecuted for this case. One of the accused managed to run from custody but got arrested later and was charged separately on the above based grounds. There was also a juvenile named Ather, he was also prosecuted on different grounds Nisar, later his kin Zaheer and their neighbor in Gulbarga, Mohammad Yusuf, an auto laborer, were captured by the police of Hyderabad. Before all else they were charged for the bomb blast which occurred in October 1993 of every a Muslim instructive establishment in Hyderabad. Their case was documented in Abid Street Police headquarters. They were additionally being questioned for a portion of the bomb impacts which occurred in August and September that year. In the end, they were additionally discovered engaged with the serial prepare impacts. Their claimed custodial admissions were the main confirmations which the police had — the arrangements (TADA) were later refered to make these acceptable. In the first place the cases got enrolled in the police headquarters according to the locales of the railroad stations . Afterward, the entire enquiry got exchanged to the CBI . On February 28, 2004, the assigned TADA Court at Ajmer sentenced the other 15 charged, including Nisar, his sibling Zaheer and Yusuf, and were sentenced with life sentence .One among them, got escaped on the basis of being juvenile by Supreme Court in 2012. The TADA Court‘s order was challenged by them by consulting Supreme Court. The prosecution presented its case by stating that , Prosecution is ought to depend on witnesses for testimonies. No direct evidence in form from any of the witnesses, implied the accused clearly as regards any of the material stages as above stated, as per the trial, the admissions made by the accused were verified on the basis of circumstantial evidence, enough to institute a case. Confessions are considered to be the turning point of the case of the trial, where every confession is required to be recorded in the correct manner, recognised by law
Factors leading to Exoneration
The compliance of the accused can be explained under following five points: - A) No reasonable acknowledgment of provisions of TADA Act as required under Section 20 A (1) of TADA Act. The documents/orders of citation as considered in the current text were not simultaneous but later on they were found fake.
B) The prosecution was all set to depend on the recorded confessions of the other crime(s). As permitted by law , this dependency was not based on the rules framed by the court. C) In the present content no intentional confessions were being recorded. Rather they were recorded when the accused were in police custody and most of the confessions were recorded by PW 62 H.C. Singh in the presence of other competent officials.
D) In any such situations, dependency on such admissions, upon as substantive evidence to bring home the charge against the confessing accused and for that matter against the co-accused. E) No independent evidence existed to stand in favour of the prosecution. There was no recorded content to verify the confessions on which the prosecution depends.
GROUNDS on which the accused was acquitted-
The Judgement said that Nasir‘s ―role is neither referred to in the confessions... nor is there any material other than the confession of (Nisar) himself on record. The conviction and sentence of (Nisar) is therefore completely unsustainable.
Torture in Judicial Custody: They were forced to stay awake all day and all night leading to anxiety and sickness . they were put to solitary confinement and hence making them phobiatic to go to public and other activities after exonerations. For 4 days Police kept Nisaruddin standing, chained and was not allowed to sleep. He was in isolation for 73 days.
“ When the wrong person is sent to prison, only are they and their family sent, but society is at risk from the real perpetrator
being left free to strike again.”