Sample Term Paper on Wrongful Conviction
Wrongful conviction refers to a situation where an individual is charged, tried and convicted of an offense they did not actually commit. The individual that serves a sentence is not the actual criminal but just a victim. Wrong convictions always lead to the freedom of the real criminal and replacing them with innocent individuals. In the event of a discovery by the public on a wrong conviction, their trust in the judicial system is always compromised because the judicial system is supposed to defend the rights of the innocent and convict perpetrators and not the other way round. It is true humans, despite their professionalism, are prone to errors but those that lead to wrongful convictions are almost not forgivable. This paper will examine some of the elements that revolve around wrongful convictions i.e. factor that contribute to such convictions and possible remedies.
Most judicial systems operate under certain values and beliefs for example, that a person is considered innocent until sufficient evidence is presented to persuade the system that they are actually guilty. The adjudication after the trial is, therefore, the only way to tell if a person is guilty or not. Failure to honor this value may lead to the public discrediting the system as it will be assumed that the judicial system does not only act on the guilty but also the innocent. It will also mean that the society is not free from crime as the real perpetrators are left to roam among them in the meantime. It is also true that arrests and charges take quite a short time to make but proving innocence can take a lifetime. There have been cases of wrongful convictions nationally and worldwide which has drawn public attention to the criminal justice system. Landmark cases include the infamous Rubin “Hurricane” Carter and Mr. Artis in the U.S.A and Donald Marshall case in Canada. Mr. Carter was a boxer and was sent to jail for murder convictions and served for 19 years before he was released.
Wrong convictions have adverse effects on the lives of the victims as well as put the credibility of the judicial system at stake. It is a problem that the judicial system must find a way of eliminating or limiting at all cost but do so then they must critically examine factors that lead to wrongful convictions. The factors that lead to wrongful convictions include; misconduct and poor training in forensics labs, using jailhouse informants, poor defense lawyering, eyewitness misidentification or distortion of information, false confessions and police and prosecutorial mistakes. The following is a brief description of this factors and how they have played a part in real wrongful conviction cases.
Sometimes forensic scientists engage in misconduct and give false testimonies which lead to impairment of the final verdict. Most of the tests done by forensic scientists are done with little scientific validation, insufficient assessment of how reliable or significant they are which leads to forensic scientists taking to the stand without scientific basis of their results (Garrett and Peter 2). In the 1980s a breakthrough in medicine proved effective when DNA testing was used to prove innocence and convict felons. DNA testing came about as a result of thorough research carried out in top institutions even though some forensic methodologies such as shoe and bite mark comparison, hair microscopy, firearm tool mark analysis have not received sufficient scientific evaluation. Those that have passed through the necessary procedures like serology are sometimes not carried out properly.
Eyewitness is one of the most common evidence used in courtrooms. They are very persuasive and compelling but also prone to errors. This is because it relies on the brain which as some experts explain, should be handled with care just like other evidence found at the scene of the crime. An eyewitness can sometimes give false information and in some cases, it is because of the incompetence of the officers conducting an investigation. For example, giving a witness with a picture containing suspects and putting a mark on one of them. The eyewitness can also mislead investigation as the identification of a suspect when the crime is still fresh might make the officers reluctant on carrying out further investigation and as time goes the real perpetrator can be lost. The information given by this witnesses sometimes should be critically looked at, for example, a witness claiming to identify someone they saw at night or at a long range.
A false confession is a case where a defendant admits guilt of having committed a crime which in truth they had nothing to do with whatsoever. Reasons for false confession vary but the most common is the defendant’s belief that pleading guilty is more beneficial than continuity to claim innocence. Other factors that can lead to false confessions include; coercion, ignorance, fear of violence, the threat of a harsh sentence, intoxication, mental impairment, etc. An example was the death of Georgia inmate Troy Davis who was killed with the use of lethal injection not having the opportunity to realize that seven of the nine eyewitnesses were coerced by the police as his attorney Stephen Marsh revealed.
A possible solution or remedy to this is recording of interrogations from the beginning to the end including even the smallest details. This will ensure that these confessions can be assessed and their authenticity verified. This will also regulate the interrogation process and get rid of police coercion or torture the suspects into admitting guilt. This will also curb the problem of promises or threats made by the officers who perform the interrogation.
Police and Prosecutorial Mistakes
Some wrongful conviction is as a result of a mistake of the justice system. This could be because of police misconduct such as the above case where they coerce witnesses to give false testimonies (Joy 399). Darry Hunt was sentenced in 1984 and served for 19 years before DNA testing proved his innocence and cleared the rape allegations. This was as a result of a conviction made by a racist jury. Such mistakes have always led to costly wrongful convictions. The Perth mint swindle involving the two brothers Brian Mickelberg and Ray Peter in 2011 an incident which led them to file a case against Western Australia police for framing them.
Poor Defense Lawyering
Sometimes it is the person with whom the defendant entrusts their freedom is the one person that lets them down. Sometimes this defense lawyer fails to make calls to witnesses or prepare for trials which lead to the suffering of their clients.
After knowing the problem and the causes then some solutions can be offered to reduce the cases and improve the services offered by the criminal justice system as well as increase the credibility of the judiciary system. The following are some of the improvements that can be made to reduce the cases of wrongful convictions;
Improve DNA testing procedures
DNA testing has been an important aspect in criminal justice system and has helped in solving cases of wrongful convictions. DNA testing has been responsible for swinging a lot of cases involving wrongful convictions to the defendant’s favor. Improving DNA testing will, therefore, translate to fewer cases of wrong convictions. In the U.S.A alone over two hundred and thirty people serving an average of twelve years in prison have exonerated through DNA testing 75% who were wrongfully convicted. An example is the case of Lynn Dejac who was saved by DNA testing which swung the proceedings in her favor. She was convicted of murdering her daughter but later the DNA testing revealed that it was her companion who was guilty. (Findley 333)
Examining closed cases when new information is received
With the authentication of DNA testing, many convicted suspects have been exonerated. This because when a new piece of evidence surfaces then the case should be re-opened. The justice system should be flexible and continue with investigations and should a new information come up then include the information to the list of evidence. An amateur boxer known as Deway was convicted of the murder of an elderly woman in 1983 but the case was overturned in 2009 after new evidence was found. It is better late than never and in the judicial context late justice still proves that proves the competence of the system (Leo and Steven 82).
To prevent misidentification by witnesses then the officer revealing the line-up can be one who has no knowledge of the appearance of the suspect. This will stop them from making unconscious gestures for example that may provide a hint to the witness (Griffin 16). Both the witness and the officer should have no prior knowledge of the suspect to prevent manipulation. In smaller agencies then folder shuffles can prove effective in blinding the officer.
Lineup composition and Instructions
The lineup presented to the witness should include “fillers” who are individuals with similar traits as those described by the witness even though are non-suspects. The suspect should not be conspicuous or outstanding from the other people in the lineup. The witness should also not view the suspect multiple times in different procedures. To reduce the pressure on the witness they should be informed that the suspect does not necessarily have to be in the lineup and that was not the end of the investigation.
Wrongful convictions have several effects and implications some of which are very costly and because of this, it should be reduced as much as possible even though these cases are not rampant. It might not appear as a very issue but if it was you going through such an ordeal then one can truly understand how devastating it can be and the challenges associated. Over the years’ landmark cases have concentrated the focus of the public who have today become very alert especially towards verdicts made on crucial and sensitive cases. This paper has examined why wrongful convictions are so important, what causes these convictions and some of the possible solutions that can help the judicial system get rid of this vice.
Garrett, Brandon L., and Peter J. Neufeld. “Invalid forensic science testimony and wrongful convictions.” Virginia Law Review (2009): 1-97.
Joy, Peter A. “The relationship between prosecutorial misconduct and wrongful convictions: Shaping remedies for a broken system.” Wisconsin Law Review 2006 (2006): 399.
Griffin, Lissa. “The correction of wrongful convictions: a comparative perspective.” American University International Law Review 16 (2001).
Leo, Richard A., and Steven A. Drizin. “The problem of false confessions in the post-DNA world.” North Carolina Law Review 82 (2004).
Findley, Keith A. “Learning from our mistakes: A criminal justice commission to study wrongful convictions.” Cal. WL Rev. 38 (2001): 333.