Lately, there has been an increasing public awareness and significance of wrongful convictions in America. The growing awareness among policy makers and U. S. citizens have resulted mainly due to highly exposed post-conviction DNA exoneration of inmates who served lengthy prison sentences, as well as the growing eradication of the use of death sentence in America. Recent inquiries involving the likelihood of error in capital cases have further helped to create this growing attention – including a sense of urgency – to the problem.
A recent study indicates that at least twenty-three innocent citizens have lost their lives through execution. Further research into the issue of errors, on cases filed between 1973 and 1995, indicate that, nearly seven in every ten, capital sentence cases had serious reversible errors, indicating the possibility of numerous cases of wrongful executions and convictions. Although; the errors usually result in numerous wrongful convictions, most do not face life in prison or the death sentence. However, these errors often lead to inmates’ wasting many of their productive years behind bars although it is not warranted.
Even as, this happens, the real offenders remain among the public, and are free to commit further crimes, thus posing as a threat to public safety. This paper mainly focuses on wrongfully convicted inmates, particularly those on death row (Huff & Killias, 2010). Cases of wrongful convictions on the part of inmates can be highly traumatizing, given that many of them end up losing their productive years behind bars due to errors in the process of delivering justice. No methodical data exists on wrongful convictions in the U. S. in addition, no plausible methodology exists for determining the level of wrongful convictions because a greater number of these cases go undiscovered and corresponding surveys of prisoners, for instance, would certainly not have public integrity.
Recent DNA testing carried out in 18,000 criminal cases produced extremely shocking results because well over 25 percent of the main suspects ended up being excluded for trial (Huff & Killias, 2010). Moreover, as most criminal cases do not involve the use of biological evidence to be tested, studies speculate that the rates of errors in most ases are quite high. Certainly, this grave problem raises numerous questions regarding the correctness and consistency of the criminal justice system in the U. S. Research has established that the main factors leading to wrongful convictions in the U. S. include coerced or false confessions and suggestive interrogations; eyewitness error; forensic science errors, fraud and incompetence; misleading lineups; improper use of informants; overzealous prosecutors or law enforcement officers; pressure from community for a conviction; and the “ratification of error”.
Often, the problem arises due to a number of factors; besides, interaction effects between these factors could also contribute to the problem (Huff & Killias, 2010). Coerced or false confessions and suggestive interrogations are a significant factor contributing to wrongful convictions. Several law enforcement departments in the U. S. appear to be particularly inclined to unprincipled behavior. Some like the “elitist” department seem to have more autonomy as compared to other departments.
A few of these departments include the street gang departments and the elite narcotics departments. Several officers have even openly confessed to giving false testimonies that lead to several convictions. Eyewitness error also contributes to quite a number of wrongful. A recent survey indicated that eyewitness error contributes to the highest number of wrongful convictions in the U. S. Many scholars have researched on eyewitness error especially with a focus on how societal, psychological, system and cultural factors can affect eyewitness perception.
Moreover, the scholars have shown how law enforcers should or should not conduct police lineups in fairness to suspects. Besides, forensic science errors, fraud and incompetence also play a significant role in wrongful convictions. Laxity and incompetence among law enforcers when it comes to presentation of forensic science evidence results in quite a significant number of wrongful convictions (Huff & Killias, 2010). In addition, cases of fraud have been on the increase with regard to presentation of forensic science evidence in courts.
Although law enforcers can use forensic science to assist in finding the truth, many forensic disciplines use methods and techniques that lack scientific substantiation. Furthermore, misleading lineups further contribute to sending many innocent suspects to conviction because identification procedures used are ineffective (New England Innocence Project, 2011). Another significant contributing factor is the use of improper use of informants. Improper use of jailhouse informants, otherwise known as “snitches” by prosecutors, police and jail officers has led to wrongful conviction of many innocent suspects.
For instance, jailhouse informants contributed to the wrongful conviction of the first of thirteen death row convicts in Illinois. These snitches often shape their stories to fit whatever the law enforcers need, thereby compromising provision of justice. The informants provide unreliable and unsubstantiated information that often leads to conviction of many defendants, including those with capital cases. A study conducted by Scheck et al. (2000) on post conviction DNA exonerations reveal that 63 percent of the cases involved prosecutorial or police misconduct.
The report indicates that even in cases where investigation reports indicated that police officers were involved in wrongful misconduct; none faced any form of discipline or dismissal. This shows that there is laxity within law enforcement departments, which normally leads to wrongful convictions. Some crimes attract increased public attention due to high publicity; in such cases, there is often too much pressure from the public/community for a conviction. In the ensuing pressure, law enforcers usually end up convicting the suspects they have arrested in connected with the crime.
One other common cause for wrongful conviction of innocent suspects relates to the tendency to validate decisions made by lower courts, otherwise known as “rubber stamping” or “ratification of error”. In such cases, law enforcers do not delve deeper into the cases, which regularly results to wrongful convictions (Huff & Killias, 2010). The arrival of DNA testing in American society, and jump in factually irrefutable amnesties have given the problem of wrongful conviction increased publicity, thereby putting it on the nation’s agenda.
These developments have also weakened public poise with regard to the criminal justice system. During the late 80s, there was renewed attention in wrongful convictions, in America. Introduction of DNA assessments in criminal cases played a significant role in propelling this renewed attention. In 1989, the U. S. justice system exonerated Gary Dotson, who had spent 10 years behind bars for a rape he did not commit after post-conviction DNA tests revealed that he was not involved in the crime.
Following Dotson’s case, there has been increased attention from the public in relation to wrongful convictions, which has to the release of well over 230 other wrongly convicted inmates in nearly twenty years. However, the society does not make as much noise when law enforcers exonerate innocent inmates as when law enforcers arrest a suspect in connection to a crime. The law enforcers themselves do not take any serious measures on officers found to have demonstrated laxity, fraud or misconduct in the provision of justice.
This shows that both the society, as well as the law enforcers, do not value the rights of wrongfully convicted inmates who deserve compensation for infringing on their rights to freedom and due process of the law (Leo ; Gould, 2009). Given the high number of wrongly convicted inmates in the U. S. , urgent remedies to the problem would come in handy to help fix the problem. In the case of mistaken eyewitness identification, the department of justice should introduce effective and reliable procedures for eyewitness identification. In this regard, the department should be quick to introduce sequential line-ups and double-blind photo spreads.
This requires that a police officer shows a number of photos to eyewitnesses, where the police officer is not aware who the suspect might be. In the case of forensic science errors, state or federal forensic science commissions should be set up to deal with issues such as training, accreditation, improving standards of testing, collection, autonomy of scientific testing, destruction, and preservation, among others. In addition, there should be meticulous examination of scientific testing methods, techniques as well as testimonies before forensic experts’ present their evidence in court.
With regard to false confessions, videotaping interrogations would facilitate the creation of a real-time record of the interviews, which help to capture the physical condition, nature and tone of the interview among other useful details, which can be helpful in evaluating the reliability and authenticity of the confessions. In the case of overzealous prosecutors or law enforcement officers, proper training on these officials can help to boost cooperation especially when the training clearly informs them of the possibility dismissal or punishment in cases where they participate in improper conduct.
On the other hand, increasing funding public counsel offices would help to provide defenders with competent and motivated lawyers that would be helpful in their cases. Such funds would be helpful in offering training to public legal counsel as well as in attracting highly competent legal experts to the public offices. Besides, eliminating rewards f or informant testimony would be extremely helpful in curbing cases of misleading informants (Westervelt ; Humphrey, 2001). Cases of wrongful convictions have been on the rise in America in the recent times.
This is a worrying trend considering that wrongful convictions often result in devastating innocent inmates including their loved ones. Research has shown that quite a number of innocent American victims are on death row while there are abundant statistics demonstrating that the justice system has previously imprisoned innocent inmates due to numerous inefficiencies. A significant number of these wrongful convictions have even contributed to sending innocent citizens on death row, which is extremely traumatizing to the victims.
Wrongful convictions also damage the reputation of the criminal justice system including the public good. In addition, wrongful convictions lead law enforcers away from the actual perpetrators, undermines public confidence, endangers public safety, and justice is not fulfilled. Therefore, wrongful convictions do not benefit anyone apart from the actual perpetrator who remains among innocent citizens and may harm them by committing further crimes (Huff ; Killias, 2010).
Huff, C. R. ; Killias, M. (2010). Wrongful conviction: International perspectives on miscarriages of justice. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press. Leo, R. A. ; Gould, J. B. (2009). Studying wrongful convictions: Learning from social science. Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law, 7 (7), 7-30. New England Innocence Project. (2011). Causes of wrongful conviction. Retrieved from http://www. newenglandinnocence. org/knowledge-center/causes/ Westervelt, S. D. ; Humphrey, J. A. (2001). Wrongly convicted: Perspectives on failed justice. Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers University Press.