Anatomy of Wrongful Conviction
Wrongful conviction is one of the many injustices where an innocent victim is compelled by the court to plead guilty for crimes that they did not commit. The proliferating number of wrongful convictions in our court rooms has resulted to the public’s loss of confidence towards the criminal justice system. The effects of such convictions are distressing as the innocent sufferers are left to bear a burden that they were not supposed to bear whilst the real perpetrators remain free to commit other heinous crimes. It is with this profound reason that many organizations and entities have taken the task of ensuring that these wrongful convictions and verdicts are overturned. The past decade has recorded a series of wrong court verdicts which have led to a vast number of innocent victims being persecuted for crimes that they did not commit. This has been depicted by Daniel Medwed, an author who elucidates the case of Wong who had been wrongfully convicted.
Brief story of the case
A case which resulted to a wrongful conviction was the Chinese prisoner who had been a victim of false verdict. Wong had been lawlessly convicted of murder which he clearly did not perpetrate. This unjust verdict came about due to a myriad of reasons such as eyewitness misidentification, ineffective assistance by the counsel, the prisoners’ fear of being called a ‘snitch’ thus being persecuted by other prisoners and the courts’ quick move to dismiss vital evidence provided by seven inmates and the deceased’s wife. In addition, Wong had poor comprehension of the English language as he could only speak and understand his native language which was Chinese. Therefore, the language barrier had also contributed significantly to the unfair court’s jurisdiction since Wong was limited from fully defending himself.
The author’s strengths
David Medwed identifies eyewitness misidentification that remains to be one of the key factors that have led to erroneous convictions of guiltless sufferers. According to previous reports, mistaken eyewitness identification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions in the United States as it accounts for more unlawful convictions than all other causes combined (Medwed, 2006). Eyewitness misidentification often results to a hefty blow on one’s case as it emphatically affects the judge’s verdict. This as in many other cases result to innocent victims being incarcerated for crimes that they did not perpetrate.
Medwed further clarifies on how mistaken identity can be worsened when there is a lack of any biological proof which always proves to be useful in cases of DNA exoneration. DNA testing is always a very crucial aspect in the providing of real evidence of suspects related to a committed crime. This is because of the fact that every individual has a unique DNA thus being of important assistance in helping the court identifying the main suspects of a certain crime. However, this is only possible when there are biological samples on or at the vicinity of the crime scene. These biological samples include: hair, nails, fingerprints and body fluids such as blood among others. Therefore, in any case that these biological samples are absent at the crime scene, and then the eyewitness misidentification may likely not be proven otherwise, thereby leading to the wrongful conviction. Overturning a case caused by the mistaken eyewitness misidentification may be a daunting task especially when there are no biological samples that could be used for post-conviction DNA testing. Such cases are notoriously difficult to ligate (Medwed, 2006).
Another factor that was clearly stated out by the writer was how ineffective assistance by the counsel or the victim’s legal representatives may bring to wrong verdicts towards the innocent victim. Medwed describes the several cases where Wong’s legal representatives failed to take key action on the two prisoners who saw a Latin man walking away from the crime scene. This had been important evidence which the legal representatives could have used in defending Wong. Even though the objective of the counsel is to defend their clients in Court, many may fail to do their obligations as they do not put any efforts on thoroughly looking in at the potential evidences that they might use to advocate their clients in court. Laziness showcased by the defense lawyers is likely to lead to lawless conviction. This is mainly because these legal representatives fail to call more witnesses who could be of help to the case. Although Medwed fails to tell as the reason as to why Wong’s lawyers did not defend him as expected, I strongly believe that they attributed to Wong’s unjust imprisonment.
Use of jailhouse informants to testify against the defendant is also among the primary factors that lead to wrongful jurisdiction. This has principally been the case for many cases that have arisen inside the prison walls. Medwed clearly describes on how a vast majority of prisoners opted to defend their fellow prisoner who did a heinous act as they feared being called a ‘snitch’ or ‘informant’. The writer uses two witnesses who knowingly gave false testimonials with regard to Wong’s case. He touches on the fact that most inmates fear facing repercussions especially when the guilty one is still out and about inside the prison walls. It is with this profound reason that many would not even think twice in giving false witness that will result to wrongful persecution of the innocent victim.
From the many court cases that have been canceled in the previous years, the legal representatives together with political activists and media have had to work tooth and nail so as to convince the courts for another new hearing. This has been chiefly done through habeas petition that seeks to vindicate guiltless victims from the unfair verdict. Medwed excellently describes the various challenges that the civil rights movement and other personalities get when it comes to proving one’s innocence. Medwed describes this process as having taken several years as the civil rights associates face with an array of challenges and stumbling blocks set by the judges most of whom are convinced that the previous case was just and fair. Even though a persecuted victim may be proven later on not to be the perpetrator of the crime in question, overturning of the case may take a very long time. Since this process is considered to be eminently dubious and daunting, civil rights bodies have made their obligations to assist in proving that indeed the persecuted victim was innocent. Thereby, canceling case needs efforts from the experts such as public interest lawyers, media personalities, investigators and political activists who all seek to provide substantial evidence.
The author’s weaknesses
Although Medwed had managed to comprehensively elucidate the factors that contributed to an innocent person being wrongfully convicted, he failed to tell us on the steps to be taken to curb such cases. The author fails to inform us on the actions taken by the authority against those who gave false testimonies against Wong who had to endure more years in prison. The writer also fails to describe on mechanisms which the court can adopt to ensure that no one is robbed of his or her right to enjoy freedom while having not committed any crime.
The author fails to address the difficulties that Wong had to endure while in prison. He does not state how Wong’s wrongful conviction had an impact on him and his family overseas. Thus, the author’s conclusion fails to describe the agony that the society in general feel when one of their own has been wrongfully convicted.
One question that still remains to be unanswered is how long does it take for the civil right groups and the media to realize that an innocent victim has been unlawfully convicted. Is there anything that can be done to save this injured from false jurisdiction and will justice have prevailed even after the guiltless victim has spent countless number of years behind bars for some crime that he did not perpetrate? Therefore, it is evident to say that our judicial systems are being faced with the biggest problem of all time as they are still haunted by the same issue of wrongful jurisdiction such as Wong’s case.
Medwed, D. S. (2006). Anatomy of a wrongful conviction: Theoretical implications and practical solutions. Villanova Law Review, 51, 05-37.