A conviction may be classified as wrongful for two reasons: The person convicted is factually innocent of the charges. There were procedural errors that violated the convicted person's rights. The strength of our criminal justice system depends on its accuracy — its ability to convict the guilty and to clear the innocent. But we know that wrongful convictions happen. Identifying and understanding the causes of wrongful convictions is critical to maintaining the integrity of our justice system. A conviction may be classified as wrongful for two reasons: 1. The person convicted is factually innocent of the charges. 2. There were procedural errors that violated the convicted person's rights.
Causes of Wrongful Convictions
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. Some of the contributing factors are-: 1. Eyewitness Misidentification- Eyewitness misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions in the United States. 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- 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 fibre 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 in the United States. 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. 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. 5. Poor Defence Lawyering- Defendants are guaranteed a right to counsel but an ineffective defence attorney can lead to the wrongful conviction of a factually innocent person. Inadequate defence 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.
IMPACT OF WRONGFUL CONVICTION ON VICTIMS
When a wrongfully convicted individual is exonerated, the original crime victim may experience feelings of guilt, fear, helplessness, devastation and depression. For some victims, the impact of the wrongful conviction may be comparable to — or even worse than — that of their original victimization. Recognizing the sensitive nature of the study, the researchers initially contacted victims through third parties, such as district attorney's offices and innocence commissions that had pre-existing relationships with the victims. They also used what is called "snowball sampling," meaning they worked with participating victims and stakeholders to reach out to crime victims in other cases of wrongful conviction and to identify service providers, law enforcement officers, prosecutors, attorneys and family members who supported victims during the exonerations. In total, researchers interviewed 33 individuals: • Eleven victims (including immediate family members in cases of homicide) • Nine prosecutors • Four service providers • Three law enforcement officers • Two family members • Two individuals who provided victims with legal advice • Two innocence commission members The study found that wrongful convictions have a significant impact on the original crime victims and exposed a lack of services available to them. The researchers also noted that although we have made significant strides over the past three decades to identify wrongfully convicted individuals and to help them gain their freedom and transition to life after exoneration, additional research is still needed to fully understand the experiences and address the needs of the original crime victims during this process. More than half of the victims in the study described the impact of the wrongful conviction as being comparable to — or worse than — that of their original victimization. Many said they were in shock when they first heard about the exoneration. The majority of the victims also reported intense feelings of guilt. This was especially true for the two-thirds of victims in the study who provided eyewitness identification As with many cases of wrongful conviction, most of the cases studied received media attention, generating notoriety for both the wrongfully convicted individuals and the crime victims.
How to stop wrongful convictions
Forensic Science Reform- The Administration should work towards strengthening the scientific development, testing, standardization, application of forensic techniques, and to support implementation and enforcement of those forensic standards to assure the integrity of final forensic products introduced in court, as expected to be recommended in a forthcoming National Academy of Sciences report. Creation of a National Commission on Wrongful Incarceration- The National Institute of Justice should establish a commission on the causes and remedies of wrongful conviction. The commission should be an independent investigative committee drawing its membership from key players throughout the criminal justice system. Federal to State Initiatives to Promote Innocence Reforms- To curb the production of wrongful convictions, identify the true perpetrators of crime, and assure more reliable criminal investigations, a program area should be designated to support technological advancements for local law enforcement to achieve innocence-related reforms (e.g. laptop technology for eyewitness identification procedures; software to catalogue biological evidence; and video equipment to electronically record interrogations).