Thursday, July 16, 2009

Wrongful Convictions and Why They Happen

A non-profit Virginia based organization called "Truths in Justice" created a presentation regarding wrongful convictions and the truth behind this type of injustice. Let us start by reiterating some of the most common myths that people have about wrongful convictions.

- Everyone in prison claims to be innocent.

- People who live on the edge are the only ones charged with crimes they didn't commit.

- The idea that people who were exonerated must have done something to get charged in the first place.

- Exoneration proves that the justice system works.

- The notion of it can't happen to me.

According to research, almost 5% to 10% of the US prison population are factually innocent of the crimes they were convicted. What this means is that almost 200,000 convicts are innocent; 90% of which pled guilty of their crime. It has been assumed by the public in recent years that false accusations and wrongful convictions are only part of the unfortunate inconsistencies in a supposedly well functioning justice system. It is also quite unacceptable for most of us why a suspect would plead guilty of a crime he/she didn't actually commit. However through recent research here are the top reasons why wrongful convictions happen.

1. Eye Witness Error - This has been tagged as one of the primary reasons why wrongful convictions happen. Eye witnesses either suffer from confusion or faulty memory that's why they end up convicting innocent people. Other times, the police are at fault for using illegal tactics to manipulate eye witnesses to accuse a target suspect. The six photo spread technique uses similar photos of the alleged suspect to make the face become more familiar. Some police investigators use composite sketches which match the alleged suspect's photo.

2. Junk Science - The use of debunked theories, erroneous DNA matching, testaments of unqualified experts, tampering and concealing of evidence all result to a fraudulent and inaccurate trial.

3. Government Misconduct - Both the police and the prosecution maybe guilty of misconduct. Police investigators oftentimes pick a random suspect just so they have one. They also use underhand tactics to force fraudulent confessions. On the other hand, prosecutors tolerate false testimonies and inaccurate evidence to compel a guilty plea.

4. Bad Defense Lawyering - This refers to lawyers who do nothing for a case. Contrary to what many people believe, both public and private attorneys are guilty of bad lawyering. Ineffective lawyers do not perform thorough investigations, do not verify the validity of expert witnesses, performs inadequate cross examinations, and exhibit unimpressive skills during court trials.

5. False Confessions - This is caused by mentally challenged witnesses or simply those who were forced to give out false confessions due to police torture and bribery.

6. Snitch Testimony - Similar to the bottom fishing technique, police officers often search the jails for snitches willing to frame suspects in exchange for sentence reduction.

7. Others - Hearsay and other insubstantial evidence fall under this category.

Overturning wrongful convictions requires the plaintiff and the civil rights attorney to undergo a complex process of civil, criminal, and administrative proceedings in state and federal courts. Filing for a compensation requires a separate civil action. If the prosecution is guilty of misconduct, the plaintiff will not only be granted exoneration but also a compensation for all the damages, physical and emotional suffering, and lost wages.

Joanne Aika Castillo is an expert legal researcher. Her research focuses on wrongful convictions and civil rights violations in Chicago. To read more information on Chicago Civil Rights Lawyers, please visit Dolan Law Offices now.

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