There is no remedy for an innocent person who is executed. The rising cases of innocent victims on death row has intensified the debate on the death penalty. The differences that exist between supporters and proposers of capital offenses could be reduced if the aspect of wrongful convictions was tabled before the two sides and debated from a logical view. Since many people support capital punishment citing justice issues, the same argument would cause them to oppose wrongful conviction (Leo & Gould, 2009). The injustice in this case does not lie in the penalty for various crimes, but in wrongful conviction (Ho, 2008). An innocent person who is wrongly convicted and imprisoned loses his/her good name, one’s family, and career. At the same time, one may suffer a life imprisonment characterized by PTSD, depression, and anxiety. Such a person deserves attention since they are psychologically disturbed because of the poor investigations that were carried out, leading to their wrongful conviction. This study is not against the death penalty, since its abolishment would worsen the wrongful conviction situation. What it is trying to explain is that death penalty cases ought to receive more thorough scrutiny than other cases of criminal nature. Abolishing death penalty would give a lesser weight to wrongful conviction.Little dialogue and collaborations have been undertaken to discuss the issue. Many people have been wrongly convicted of rape, murder and other crimes. This being the case, it is important to study deeper into the factors that lead to wrongful conviction, and the possible mechanisms that can be put in place in the criminal investigations and thejudiciary in the conviction of an accused person.This paper therefore, will aim at exploring the various dimensions of wrongful conviction by highlighting the causes, concerns, and effects related to the act.
Frequencies of wrongful conviction
According to Furman (2003), it is generally impossible, given the current state of knowledge to precisely indicate the number of innocent persons who have been wrongfully convicted. Polls taken sometime in 2000 revealed that, many people believe that a lot of people are wrongfully convicted of crimes like murder, rape among other crimes (11). In fact, of the survey done in 2003, 13% indicated that there was wrongful conviction in capital cases (index crimes) (Huff, 2004). Despite the fact that analysts say that there is no system that is ever perfect, and therefore allow for error in the conviction, the contemporary rate of wrongful convictions is unacceptable since it outbound the agreed 5% scientific error margin.
Causes of wrongful convictions
The principal factors leading to wrongful convictions include the eyewitness error, overzealous law enforcement officer, forced and false confessions and perjury among others (Huff, 2004). Plea bargains have led to corruption in the justice system as they have led to the creation of fictional crimes (Roberts, 2003). The aspect of forcing people to admit what happened or being forced to give false witness leads to the elevation of fiction over truth. Through torture, an innocent person may self-incriminate themselves. Plea bargaining leads to wrongful conviction by undermining the police investigations. At the same time, when there is sloppy investigations, justice is in most cases unlikely to be met. In other cases, the prosecutor may force a plea so that they can increase the chances of convictions, thus increasing the seriousness of the charges alleged.
Mistaken identity in the identification of suspects can be as a result of eyewitness perception, psychological aspects, cultural, social, and symmetrical factors (Wells, 2013). This being the case, an innocent person may be identified as a suspect while in actual sense it is a case of mistaken identity. Some officers are unethical and overzealous and may allow perjured testimony or at certain times conceal exculpatory evidence. This being the case, an innocent person may be wrongfully convicted if the physical evidence was mishandled, or witness tampering took place. In other instances, improper interrogations may lead to a wrongful conviction. This usually occurs as a result of suggestive interrogations brought in by third parties. The unethical behavior of some police may also lead to the planting of evidence so as to accuse an innocent person.
If there isa lack of assistance from the counsel, a person may be wrongfullyaccused. Research indicates that ineffective assistance by the counsel usually leads to convictions since the attorneys do not exhaust all the material facts that may exonerate an innocent person. In certain cases, there may be forensic errors, incompetence of the investigators as well as fraud during investigations. Though technology is far beyond quality and trainings, those working in the crime labs may have ethical issues and may distort evidence instead of exonerating the innocent accused persons.
Strategies to reduce wrongful convictions
We all recognize the fact that there is no manmade system that is all perfect. Nevertheless, continued effort ought to be undertaken to improve the criminal justice system so that the rate of wrongful convictions could be brought down to an acceptable level. Some of the strategies proposed requires no additional funding if implemented, and therefore would only require the input and adjustment of the existing standards as well as increased standard of care. One strategy that could be employed to reduce wrongful convictions would be to ensure that there is adequate funding. The financial crisis and economic downturn that many countries are facing affects states government in the manner that they execute their duties. The lack of enough revenue leads to budget cuts, which affects all state departments including the justice system. Criminal offenses are not in any way reducing, and investigations have to be done against time. This being the case, the investigators ends up doing incomplete works and may sometimes lead to wrongful convictions. Funding is therefore necessary as lack of it would only lead to increased wrongful convictions. For proper investigations, defense and prosecution to be carried out, there ought to be enough funding. Inthe current state, prosecutors may have little time to review cases,thereby leading to judgmental errors. At the same time, the defense lawyers may have increased workloads, therefore leading to inadequate defense investigations and presentations. All these factors may jeopardize the outcome of a case, thus leading to wrongful convictions.
The convicted prisoners may be given access to DNA testing to verify their specimen in relation to the crime specimen. This system may help identify and establish theinnocence of a convict. The use of DNA testing, being a modern technique, would ensure that definitive evidence is obtained that which is accurate and free from biases. The judicial personnel’s and all involved in criminal justice ought to appreciate the aspects brought about by forensic science as they are more accurate than some traditional methods.
Recording the suspect’s statements could be used in future remedy to ascertain if the suspect was lying or not. Electronic tapes can be produced in court thus giving the judge an opportunity to hear and verify if there is a twist in the statement prior to presenting the suspect in the defense chambers. The recorded statement could prove beneficial to the police, the defendant as well as the system. Apart from the statements, the justice system could take advantage of the social science research and improve on the line-up procedures. If the lineup procedures were implemented, they could lead to greater efficiency and better identification of the suspect.
In certain cases, a witness may frame a suspect, or wrongly accuse him/her. To avoid such happenings, the use of informants ought to be monitored (Wells, 2013). It is held that the informants adds trustworthiness to a case, but in certain circumstances may not be so. The defense counsel as well as the court should ensure that the informants are genuine and not biased in their witness testimony.
It has been noted that the contemporary society requires advanced investigation tools. The old crime labs ought to be thoroughly reviewed and evaluated so that the correct equipment as well as trained and educated scientists are engaged to conduct scientifically valid tests. Discovery and evidence rules could also be amended so that adequate pre-trial investigations are conducted by the defense on any informant and other people giving evidence.
The solution to exonerating wrongful convictions lies in the power of the correctional officers in understanding the various causes of wrongful convictions. Housing an inmate is costly, owing to the economic downturn. Some of the causes leading to wrongful convictions include eyewitness error, plea bargains, mistaken identity, inconsistency of the investigation officers and counsels among others. The entire system can embrace strategic measures, including professional training of its experts in forensic science, fact verification, statement recording, and re-evaluation of the crime labs as well as thorough scrutiny of the informants. All in all, accepting that mistakes can occur that may lead to a wrongful conviction, may prompt sobriety in the entire system since, much has not been done to protect injustices arising out of wrongful convictions.
Furman, H. P. (2003). Wrongful convictions and the accuracy of the criminal justice system. Colorado Lawyer, 32(9), 11-30.
Ho, H. L. (2008). A philosophy of evidence law: Justice in the search for truth. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Huff, C. R. (2004). Wrongful convictions: The American experience. Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice, 46(2), 107-120. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/216095379?accountid=1611
Leo, R. A., & Gould, J. B. (2009). Studying wrongful convictions: Learning from social science. Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law, 7, 2010-11.
Poveda, T. G. (2001). Estimating wrongful convictions. Justice Quarterly : JQ, 18(3), 689-708. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/228161357?accountid=1611
Roberts, P. C. (2003). The Causes of Wrongful Conviction. INDEPENDENT REVIEW-OAKLAND-, 7(4), 567-574
Wells, D. (2013). Wrongful convictions: Causes, prevention, impact and outlook for corrections. Corrections Today, 75(5), 126-127,129. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1464623812?accountid=1611