Hold those laughs inside and clear the doubtful reality from your eyes: everyone can see. Wrongfully convicted? Try not to look so guilty. When we go to a restaurant, order three bottles of red dry wine and only get to pay for the two of them, because the silly waiter forgot to add the last one on the check, we are only happy. But what happens when we are on the other side. What happens when we are victims of wrongful convictions? Well, there is not much to say: try not to look so guilty. The public already has convicted you. And it is only human intuition.
Now, what is a wrongful conviction? It is simply a conviction of a person accused of a crime, which, as a result of a subsequent investigation, proves erroneous. Hey, but you have not committed the crime remember? Or do you?
Studies have shown that 2.3% to 5% of all those currently locked up in US prison are actually innocent. That means, that approximately 100,000 prisoners are behind bars only for crimes they did not commit. And they all are wondering about how they got there. And we will talk about that in a bit.
According to the Innocence Project, an advocacy group that provides legal aid to the wrongly convicted, the average DNA exoneree served 13 years in prison before he/she was freed. Each new exoneration adds more urgency to the most important question since 1989: how many more innocent people are waiting to be freed?
Let me bring you a little example of someone being a victim of a wrongful conviction. If you could take your mind and body back to 1984, you would remember how pinstripe baggy jeans and race relations were in the heart of the world. Darryl Hunt, an African-American man from Winston-Salem, North Carolina was nineteen years old at the time. He was convicted of a white woman, Deborah Sykes, even though there was no physical evidence tying him to the crimes whatsoever. An all-white jury sentenced Hunt sentenced to life in prison.
In 1994 he was cleared of the rape when DNA testing proved he was innocent. However, they are being central to the crime, he still had nine years in prison. Finally, Willard Brown confessed to both acts, and Hunt was freed. If you think about it, it is a tragedy, how an innocent person can get nineteen years of prison time for something he/she did not do. And this is still a serious issue that we are facing.
Of course, there are a number of reasons why people face wrongful convictions. And they could vary from case to case.
#1. Oops, a false confession
It is silly to think, that we could falsely confess to something we did not do. But believe it or not, 25% of all wrongful convictions are because of false confessions. Sometimes people can be mentally impaired or intoxicated. And sometimes they are just ignorant of the law. And sadly enough, what happens is that people confess because cops give them no other choice. To avoid false confessions and incriminating statements The Innocence Project though of something. It encourages police departments to electronically record all custodial interrogations in their entirety in order to prevent coercion and to provide an accurate record of the proceedings. If you think who are the majority of the 25%, they are 18-year-olds.
#2. Where are my glasses, I think, I think, I saw something
The second reason people face wrongful convictions is eyewitness misidentifications. These are about 75% of post-conviction DNA exoneration cases in the U.S. “There is no more powerful evidence than a sympathetic, traumatized victim pointing a finger at the defendant and saying,” said Nina Morrison, the senior attorney with the Innocence Project. Words like “I’m absolutely positive that that is that man who assaulted me. I will never forget his face for as long as I live,” are just enough. Now, can we misidentify someone who has hurt us? The National Academy of Sciences released a report about factors that can impact a witness’ ability to properly identify someone in a lineup. Those factors include biases, stress and uncomfortable viewing conditions. And remember, memory is not so stable itself: it can get badly distorted over time.
#3. Wrong time for poor forensic science
Unvalidated or improper forensic science plays a role in approximately 50% of wrongful convictions. As forensic science is the application of science to criminal and civil laws, it is governed by the legal standards of admissible evidence and criminal procedure. And the whole point of forensic science is to be concrete, on point and precise. Extensive scientific research at top academic centers developed DNA testing, many other forensic techniques have been subjected to rigorous scientific evaluation. Those techniques may include hair microscopy, bite mark comparisons, firearm tool mark analysis, etc. So, if you are going to become that someone important who will research and explore forensic science and gather information based on them, do all of us a favor and be good at it.
#4. Snitches everywhere
False accusation is one of the other reasons people are wrongfully convicted. They approximately are 55% of all the wrongful convictions. Usually statements from people with incentives to testify—particularly incentives that are not disclosed to the jury—are the central evidence in convicting an innocent person. People have been wrongfully convicted in cases in which snitches are paid to testify or receive favors in return for their testimony. Awful isn’t it?
#5. Official misconduct has gone bad
We tend to believe that most prosecutors and law enforcement officials are honey and have the best intentions to protect society. And that is true in most cases. But sometimes, the pressure to secure a conviction at times can lead police and prosecutors to act in an inappropriate, unfair and unlawful manner. Withholding or fabricating evidence, coercive interrogations by investigators are usually the type of misconduct in these cases. As it is in no case justified, this is the reality.
#6. Bad lawyering will serve you long in prison
There is a guarantee that every defendant will get a counsel. However, if the defense attorney is ineffective, it can lead to the wrongful conviction of a factually innocent person. It is the result of inadequate defense lawyering, which can include the overall failure to prepare for the trail. Also, it can include to investigate the crime and the defendant’s alibi and to challenge witnesses and experts. Let’s be honest. Sometimes the odds are against us even when we are innocent. But a good lawyer knows his/her job. If you are in California, there are ways of finding the best attorney at law.
What has history taught us? In 1989 only 21 people were freed from false imprisonment. In 2015 125 people were freed. Every exoneration brings more awareness to the problem. And that is a good sign. Maybe we are moving towards the right path.