The Anatomy of a Wrongful Conviction

     For purposes of this discussion, a wrongful conviction is the conviction of an innocent person rather than an overturned guilty verdict based on a procedural issue. In the past six years, more than 500 prisoners convicted of th…

     For purposes of this discussion, a wrongful conviction is the conviction of an innocent person rather than an overturned guilty verdict based on a procedural issue. In the past six years, more than 500 prisoners convicted of the crimes of rape and murder have been released after being exonerated by DNA analysis. And all of these convictions had been upheld on appeal before the application of forensic science set these prisoners free. Since only a fraction of murders, rapes, and aggravated assault crimes feature DNA evidence, it is reasonable to assume the above exonerations represent the tip of an injustice iceberg.

     More than 90 percent of criminal convictions in this country are based on guilty pleas, and it is a fact that defendants who are innocent plead guilty to avoid the risk of maximum sentences. Since plea bargained cases do not involve trials, there is no way to know what percentage of these cases involved trumped-up evidence, prosecutorial wrongdoing, and/or incompetent defense attorneys.

     In a criminal justice system based upon the presumption of innocence and due process, how can a defendant be convicted of a crime he didn't commit? Wrongful convictions are not caused by flaws in the system, but by the way the system is administered by criminal justice practitioners. What follows are common elements of wrongful conviction cases:

Incompetent and Unscrupulous Investigators

     There are too many inexperienced, poorly trained, and/or unethical police detectives. These officers often ignore or destroy exculpatory evidence. They employ interrogation techniques that produce false confessions, pressure uncertain eyewitnesses into positive identifications, and in the worse cases, fabricate or plant evidence. These detectives also make up probable cause to acquire search warrants, and commit perjury at trials.

Overzealous Prosecutors

     Unethical, over-eager, and politically motivated prosecutors often pressure forensic scientists to tailor their expert testimony to the prosecution's theory of the case. They introduce coerced confessions, and put unreliable eyewitnesses on the stand. When short of solid evidence of guilt, they produce jailhouse informants and phony, hired-gun experts. These prosecutors are more about winning cases than prosecuting the right people.

Useless Defense Attorneys

     There are too many criminal defense attorneys who are either professionally unqualified, or go into court unprepared because they are lazy. These practitioners do not spend much time consulting with their clients and do not carefully go over the prosecution's case. They don't file pretrial motions to challenge questionable confessions, expert witnesses, eyewitnesses, jailhouse snitches, and search warrants. At trial they do not aggressively cross-examine prosecution witnesses, or mount effective defenses. Following convictions caused by their own poor performances, they don't file appeals. Many public defenders offices in the U.S. are underfunded, and overwhelmed by huge caseloads.

Biased and Indifferent Judges

     As seen in the O. J. Simpson trial, judges aren't always up to the job. Many are incompetent, biased, unfocused, or weak. The worst are simply corrupt. Police detectives can be disciplined, and prosecutors can be voted out of office. Bad judges, however, are rarely recalled, and are hard to weed out.

     The American criminal justice system, made up of police, courts, and  corrections, is broken. Crime solution rates are at an all time low. Too many innocent people are convicted, and too many guilty people walk. 

from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/

Categories: Law