Falsely Convicted: A Person Is Innocent Until Proven Guilty

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Imagine waking up and being accused of a crime that you did not commit. This is a nightmare for anyone who cares about justice. Year after innocent people re tossed into the legal system for short- or long-term sentences for crimes they did not commit. The term wrongful conviction is defined as a case in which a government entity has determined that the original convicted individuals factually did not commit the crime. People out so much attention on making sure that guilty individuals don’t go free. Are they willing to overlook every reason why a person may be innocent? There is so much time being spent on finding evidence to show guilt but fail to look for evidence that may show someone is innocent. The number of wrongfully convicted person is unknown because there is no clear record of how many exonerations or wrongfully accused persons. I’m not sure if the true number will ever be known because to this day people are still being wrongfully convicted. Whether they were found guilty in criminal court trials, or when the accused feels the need to plead guilty to a crime, they did not commit just to avoid the death penalty or long prison sentences. There are also cases where the jury finds a person guilty who had a good defense. Wrongfully convicting someone is an injustice at it best, which raised doubt about the accuracy and fairness of the criminal justice system. As the issue became more relevant, budding research has motivated several innocence projects, whose main goal is to exonerate wrongfully convicted persons. When someone goes to prison for a crime they did not commit can lead to severe psychological consequences. Just like guilty prisoners these people develop posttraumatic stress disorder and anxiety disorders. These circumstances make it hard to return to normal life after being exonerated.

The term exoneration refers to the process by which a government entity, by way of a pardon or judicial order, concedes the convicted person is indeed innocent. A Harris Poll of Americans taken in 2000 revealed that 94% of them surveyed believed that innocent people are sometimes convicted of murder and estimated that this happens 13 percent of the time. January 2003, it was reported that at least 13 out of 167 inmates on death row in Illinois were innocent. These people are fathers, mothers, sisters, brother, they have been taken away from their loved one. Once released they may not receive any financial compensation for being victimized by the criminal justice system. The number of states with compensation laws has grown over the years. I can not believe all states are not on board with these laws because these people are due some type of justice. They should receive compensation for health and restoration services, as well as financial compensation. No one expects every system to be perfect, ideally, we would want it to be accurate 99.9 percent. This is unrealistic because errors are inevitable. Once someone is convicted, they normally end up dead or serving a long sentence. Many people may not believe the truth but some of these wrongful convictions are due to corrupt law enforcement. This issue has gone on for too long and something corrupt and unjust as wrongful convictions. Due to racial profiling within the justice system, misconduct of prosecutors, mistaken identification and ineffective assistance of counsel, leave innocent people convicted of crimes they did not commit.

Wrongful convictions are increasing and becoming a hot topic, because we are not sure how many times this has happened. Most Americans have the presumption that the criminal justice system is fair and blind. The American criminal justice system is based on the concept that wrongs have causes, that such causes are preventable, and that injurious acts warrant recompense to victims, as well as punishment for offenders. (Leo & Gould, 2009). Gary Dotson became the first prisoner to be exonerated by post-conviction DNA evidence in 1989. This case initiated the movement which has been responsible for overturning more than 300 convictions to date. Once assumed to be preposterous notion, 94% of recent poll respondents believed that innocent defendants are sometimes executed via American judicial process. (Gould & Leo, 2010, Leo 2005). We may never know exactly how many innocent defendants have lost their lives, or the better part of them due to miscarriages of justice. In 2000, Governor George Ryan imposed a moratorium on the death penalty in Illinois, he was outraged that more prisoners have been that more prisoners have been exonerated than executed by the State. It became such a huge topic, U.S Senator Patrick Leahy in 2004 introduced the Innocence Protection Act and stated that miscarriages of justice come at a high social cost. The more people wrongfully convicted the less society has faith in the system. Kirk Bloodsworth Post Conviction DNA Testing Grant Program has helped achieve DNA testing for wrongfully convicted individuals.

Causes of Wrongful Conviction

Studies have shown there are several factors for wrongful convictions. In most cases more than one factor is involved in these convictions. These factors prove negligence with the criminal justice system. The following list gives several examples:

The leading cause for wrongful convictions is mistaken identity. An overall error rate for eyewitnesses is not established. The first 200 DNA exonerations showed 79% were due to wrongful conviction. Facial recall is somewhat uncertain because the human memory does not record all the information, unlike a tape recorder, the information normally goes to our short-term memory. Most crimes happen at night or poorly lit areas, and it believed that our vision diminishes when we are frightened. Line ups and mug shots seem to be the cause of these convictions. Law enforcement should not be using these methods in order to get more arrest. I wonder how many arrest law enforcements would gain if they no longer use line ups or mugshots. The jury needs to know these things when in trial. This could change the outcome of the trial. Jurors may not believe that a suspect would confess to a crime they did not commit.

According to Professor Kassin, Saul, there are several types of people who falsely confess: compulsive type-attention seeker, confess to gain a piece of the fame, impress others, or to get attention. Homeless people confess to avoid being on the streets and food to eat. Fugitives confess to avoid being prosecuted for a crime elsewhere with stiffer penalties. Guilty conscience confesses because they believe they are guilty of something. Coerced complaint pled guilty to avoid something aversive in their home environment. Coerced internalized comes to believe in their guilt out of interrogation of persuasion.

I could not imagine being questioned for hours and hours. These interrogations can be draining physically and mentally. Suspects become exhausted, feel fear, frustration confusion, and innocence. Suspects sometimes just want the interrogation to end so they will say or agree to just about anything. Police officers are already under the impression that the suspect is the perpetrator, so they’re only looking for a confession not the truth. The suspect may believe that confessing will be more beneficial to them than continuing to maintain their innocence. False confessions were obtained in about 20% of exonerations, and at least 125 documented false confessions. Research has suggested that teens, mentally impaired individuals, and people with personality deficits are more likely to confess than normal adults.

Defendants are guaranteed a right to counsel, even one that is ineffective. Most defendants are poor and may rely on government counsel or public defenders rather than retained lawyers. Some of these lawyers are overworked, and not prepared. I guess when it comes to representation/counsel the saying you get what you pay for. If you don’t have a lot of funds to obtain counsels your odds of accepting a plea deal or serving time. Its truly sad that a rich/wealthy person innocent or guilty, if they have money, they can afford a good lawyer. Just because you pass the bar does not mean you have the knowledge or means to be an effective counsel. A public defender is overworked and underfunded which means they may not have the funds for an aggressive defense. The U.S Constitution requires effective assistance of counsel for defendants. The Supreme Courts standards for determining ineffective are weak and require proof that the lawyer’s negligence caused the verdict. Several things can lead to the defense attorneys’ misconduct can be sleeping, unpreparedness, drunkenness, or even being high on drugs. Competent lawyers have failed to prevent the conviction of innocent clients so you can imagine the chances the defendant has with an incompetent lawyer.

Forensic evidence supported the convictions of 57% of the first 200 exonerations. According to Gould & Leo, the National Research Council concluded in 2009 that the forensic science system in the United States is fragmented and has an uneven quality of practice, which poses a threat to the quality and credibility of forensic science and its service to the criminal justice system. This information makes me want to work in this field the most. These test and theories need to be done as correct as possible. When DNA evidence is not tested correctly it could implicate an innocent person. There needs to be scientific validation and adequate assessments of the significance or reliability. Forensic analyst should not testify in cases without a proper scientific basis for their findings. Scientific experts’ testimony can naturally carry a lot of weight with the jury. Some examiners work hand in hand with prosecutors because the prosecutors know they can rely on them to give them the results they need to get a conviction. There have been cases were the examiner has not run any test but still sides the prosecutor. Even the most reliable methods can produce incorrect results if the forensic location is substandard. DNA testing has become very sensitive and the risk of contamination rises if the location is not in pristine condition.

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Prosecutorial misconduct can occur when a prosecutor does not hand over all the evidence, which could determine that the person on trial is innocent. While in the court room misconduct can include making inflammatory comments or mischaracterizing evidence to the jurors. This can allow witness perjury or permitting snitches to lie about their payoffs for testing. This bothers me so much it is full of negative intent. Someone can be on trial and the evidence destroyed can prove their innocence. Prosecutors have way too much power to be crooked just as police officers. All we can do is make sure people who are honest hard-working professionals.

When law enforcement relies on informants and snitches, they may be able to get whatever information they want or need. A jailhouse confession is almost as good as the defendant confessing to the police. I believe in most cases these inmates are promised a reduced sentence and they may even embellish to get a reduced sentence. Some criminals do not deserve time off their sentence. Anytime an inmate testifies that the defendant confessed to them would be questionable to me. Jurors cannot be naïve thinking these inmates are doing this out of the goodness of their heart, which in most cases is not the case. The jury should be aware of the inmate’s crimes and if they will receive any incentives for their testimony. People have been wrongfully convicted in cases in which snitches are paid to testify or receive special favors in return for their testimony. Informant perjury was a factor in 49% of the first 111 death penalty exonerations. The actual killer may be the one testifying just to try and throw the police off. Witnesses lie just as much as the criminals for reasons we may not understand. This gives untrustworthy people incentives to lie, and police handlers often fail to properly screen their stories. There have been notorious cases in which rogue police officers have framed innocent people for drug and weapon possession. This type of corruption may be rare, but when it happens it requires officials to reinvestigate hundreds of convictions.

Judges are put in their place to make sure the trials are fair. Confessions that are inconsistent with the physical evidence or obtained by questionable means, judges should exclude these confessions. If a felon has dubious motives that testimony should be excluded. Some judges do not follow the guidelines all the time. I cannot understand how judge’s ca be bias or accept money in exchange for the decision the judge makes. Judges are high up in rank and we count on them each trial to make sure justice is served. Judges are prone to “stereotype consistent memory errors” that can have an impact on how they set bail, rule on pretrial motions and trial objectives, assess guilt determining instruction during jury trials, and appropriate sentencing.

There are several laws created and programs around wrongful convictions.

Justice for All Act

In 2004 this Act was enabled to protect crime victims’ rights, eliminate the substantial backlog of DNA samples collected from crime scenes and convicted offenders, and improve and expand the DNA testing capacity of federal, state, and local crime laboratories. This Act enumerates eight specified rights that crime victims have. It requires prosecutors to inform the victims that they can seek counsel to fully understand. Victims can file motions to reopen a plea. The A t mandates that victims have the right to be reasonable heard at public proceedings involving release, plea, or sentencing. The Act does not create a separate cause of action allowing victims to sue the Federal Government. The Act creates no attorney-client relationship between the victim and a representative of the Department of Justice.

The Innocence Project was founded in 1992 by Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld. It was founded at Cardozo School of Law Yeshiva University and is a nonprofit organization. The main purpose of the Innocence Project is exonerations. Their mission is to free the staggering number of innocent people who remain incarcerated, and to bring reform to the system responsible for their unjust imprisonment. They use DNA testing to exonerate wrongfully convicted people. As of November 17, 2019, the Innocence Project has become widespread as countries are using scientific data to overturn wrongful convictions and in turn freeing those wrongfully convicted. The funding consists of receiving 45% of its funding from foundations, 15% from an annual benefit diner, 7% from the Cardozo School of Law, and the rest comes from corporations.

The Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act was established in 2008, which provides some compensation for those who have been exonerated by their crimes by more explicit evidence such as DNA testing. Exonerees who qualify in Florida can be eligible for $50,000 per year that they were behind bars, with a maximum cap at $2 million. In 2017, Florida passed new legislation that loosened the eligibility criteria from the strict “Clean Hands” policy that existed before. The original criteria were always up for debate due to the harshness. It stated that exonerated people would not be eligible for compensation from the state if they had previously convicted of a felony of any kind. There criminal record should have nothing to do with compensation for being wrongfully convicted. Now the “Clean Hands” policy only prohibits the wrongfully incarcerated from receiving funds if they were previously convicted of a violent felony prior to their wrongful conviction. According to one study associated with the “Clean Hands” provision, it was estimated that since 1979, out of 26 exonerees from death row in Florida, only four would be compensated. These people’s lives were taken from then so not have the decency to compensate them is pure slavery. Its wrong in so many ways. These people missed on years of their life. Some were not even given a chance to have a real life, a career, a family, and some lost all of that. While people are incarcerated, they may not receive the proper care in prison, which could cause their health to deteriorate.

Sheila and Doug Berry founded Truth in Justice organization in 1994. They are a volunteer-based organization in Orange County, FL that engages with the community to promote education concerning the truth of our local history, and advocate justice for those who have been harmed in inequalities born of prejudice. The group does not directly aid criminal defendants but does refer them to experts in the field.

Centurion Ministries was founded in 1983 by Jim McClasky as a result of his investigation on behalf of a prisoner, Jorge De Los Santos. Centurion is a nonprofit organization dedicated to freeing people have been wrongfully convicted, are completely innocent, and serving long imprisonment terms or death sentences. Centurion have freed 60 or more innocent men and women throughout the U.S. and Canada. They are known for often discovering evidence that was intentionally hidden from defense, learns that witnesses were coerced o manipulated, and unearths forensic evidence that was not previously discovered.  

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