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What are the primary factors that contribute to the wrongful conviction and incarceration of individuals by the criminal justice system?
Kishma O. Ovins
American Intercontinental University
Senior Capstone in Criminal Justice
IP # 4
For several years, there have been many individuals whom have been wrongfully convicted of crimes they did not commit. They have been incarcerated for decades, locked away in a prison cell and their innocence remain silent. These individuals when released into society has many issues dealing with the outside world and end up turning back to the life in which they know for so many years. This paper will examine a number of wrongful convictions that has been exonerated over a period of eight years. There are on average approximately four hundred and forty seven exoneration cases that have been examined where there are factors that contribute to wrongful convictions and incarceration by individuals in the criminal justice system. These factors consist of mistaken witness identification, false accusation and statements, inadequate forensic evidence, police or prosecutorial misconduct, perjury, just to name a few. Evaluations of strides to identify and assist these wrongfully convicted individuals back to gaining their freedom and transitioning to a life after exoneration will also be mentioned.
The primary factors that contribute to the wrongful conviction and incarceration of individuals by the criminal justice system include eye witness misidentification. This is considered to be the most important cause of wrongful incarceration. In addition, the application of forensic tests methods that have little or no scientific validity with inadequate assessments of their significance or reliability. This is called junk science cause. Another important cause is false confessions. The victim during interrogation confesses to a crime he never committed. Government misconduct is also a cause of wrong conviction. Snitches also lead to wrong convictions. The jury does not know what snitches have received. Finally, bad lawyering, where the lawyers do not investigate properly, call witnesses, or prepare for trial, leads to conviction of innocent people. Hearsay and questionable circumstantial evidence has also led to innocent people being convicted.
RQ: What are the primary factors that contribute to the wrongful conviction and incarceration of individuals by the criminal justice system?
Wrongful conviction are considered cases where the government determines that the person whom committed a crime actually did not commit the crime. Exoneration refers to when the government has determined that the individuals wrongfully convicted is indeed innocent and start the process for their release. DNA testing has revealed that there are a greater number of innocent individuals within the prison system than it was once thought. This is due to the fact that over the years there have been an increasing number of individuals that have been exonerated due to DNA testing that has revealed that they were not the individuals that committed the crimes that they were convicted and incarcerated for. The reason that this is a very important issue, is due to the fact that it is a travesty any time that an innocent person is incarcerated for crimes that they did not commit, and this has far-reaching impacts upon that individual as well as their friends and loved ones.
Often times the spouses of these individuals as well as the children of many of these individuals suffer traumatic financial hardships due to the absence of a wrongly convicted parent, for example. In addition, one of the aggravating factors in situations of this nature is the fact that once an individual is convicted of a crime it is very difficult for them to obtain DNA testing in many cases, due to resistance from prosecutors and other members of the justice system in many instances. In addition, it appears that the vast majority of the wrongly convicted individuals are of the lower socio-economic class within society. The working solution to the problem is that if eyewitness error, wrong forensic methods, government misconduct, snitch testimony, and false confessions are eliminated, fewer innocent people will be convicted. Further, in criminal cases that involve biological evidence, DNA testing can be applied to exonerate people wrongfully convicted. With continued research new causes of wrongful conviction and incarceration of individuals will be identified. Further, new methods of reducing cases of wrongful conviction will also be found.
The literature review was obtained from the research study conducted by Yale Law Professor Edwin Borchard. He published the foremost study on the topic of mistaken identification in the American criminal justice system in 1932. After researching and reviewing 62 convictions from 27 American jurisdictions and 3 convictions from England, which were chosen out of a larger sample population of possible wrongful conviction cases, Borchard found that the most common cause of wrongful convictions was mistaken identification, which was the primary cause of 29 of the 65 wrongful convictions. Quintessentially it is impossible to accurately quantify the amount of wrongful convictions regardless of which factor is the contributing factor for the wrongful conviction, but it has been estimated that .5 percent of current prisoners are innocent and wrongfully convicted according to the attorney general's from the different states in United States who gave interviews in a 1996 book. Research that specifically analyzed wrongful convictions that were a result of mistaken identification found that in 70 cases where DNA evidence was the scientific tool that overturned convictions of wrongly convicted men, 87 percent of these cases involved mistaken identifications.
Wrongful Convictions: The Problem
The main problem with wrongful convictions is that an innocent person is convicted of a crime that they did not commit and the guilty persons is actual not brought to justice which in turn result in that person being a threat to the public. In convicting the wrong person that individual then face imprisonment. During this time, this individual may experience the trauma and fear of being locked away from their family, friends, and society. They may even experience psychological trauma while incarcerated. According to Ramsey and Frank (2007) stated that the burden of integrity, reputation, and effectiveness of the criminal justice system is often times questioned when there is wrongful convictions. Ramsey and Frank (2007) conducted a research defining wrongful convictions as a process in which individuals are wrongfully convicted of a crime but are in fact innocent. Gross (2008) defined exonerations as the official legal concept declaring a defendant not guilty of a crime that they had been previously convicted of and can include a governor's pardon, a court's dismissal of charges and acquittal after the re-trials.
Factors of wrongful convictions
According to a research conducted by Borchard (1932) he stated that the factors of wrongful convictions stemmed from mistaken identification, perjury, false confessions, police and prosecutorial misconduct. In the case researched by Borchard (1932) thirteen of the cases revealed that no crime was committed and seven of the cases the crimes continued after a suspect was arrested and convicted.
In a study conducted by Loftus (2003) findings confirmed that a person's perception and memory can sometimes be unreliable due to different experiences as well as information received from elsewhere. It is stated from research that a person when present with a weapon focus on the weapon more so than on the actual offender thus resulting in mistaken identification. Bedau & Radelet's (1987) stated that 64% of the wrongful convictions were caused by eyewitnesses misidentifying the defendant. Police eyewitness procedures such as line-ups and show-ups can also contribute to mistaken eyewitness identification. These procedures may indicate to the witness who the suspect is by giving hints or if the suspect in a show up is already placed in handcuffs at the scene. The witness might falsely identify the offender in such cases.
Perjury is a factor that contribute to wrongful convictions. In a 2012 case involving Gary Dotson, the witness reported a false crime then to cover up a date with her boyfriend picked Dotson as the suspect who supposedly committed such crime. ("Know the cases," 2012). In cases were perjury occurs the individual accused the wrong individual to avoid suspicion on them, to cover up another incident, or for financial gain. In other cases, an accomplice commit perjury to receive a lesser sentence, etc. Perjury is a huge factor that contribute to wrongful convictions.
The purpose of a police interrogation is to obtain incriminating statements and admission, a full confession, not determine guilt or innocence (Drizzin & Leo, 2004). False confessions stems from the interrogator coercing the suspect into confessing to a crime they did not commit or erroneous interrogation techniques used by the interrogator. In examining false confessions information obtained from police transcripts, electronic media sources, court or trial records, etc., will be examine. Several cases was examined by Leo and Ofshe (1998) and it was found that the defendant's confession was proven false therefore exonerated using scientific evidence, confessions was highly probably false without evidence to support a true confession.
Ineffective Forensic Evidence
As mentioned above DNA evidence is very powerful and beneficial to a case. However, oftentimes then proper collection, storage, identification, and processing of this type of evidence is mishandled causing issues with wrongful convictions. In crime labs is DNA evidence is not extracted and analyzed properly it can cause contamination. Once this occurs that DNA evidence is no longer reliable. Also, false and incorrect testimony by analysts is sometimes not completely accurate. A research conducted showed that an analyst was called to testified about forensic evidence and provided statistics implying that the test conducted confirmed that the evidence was indeed that of the defendant which was not entirely true (Garrett & Neufeld, 2009). Griebel (2012) noted a case in which the analyst testified that the blood samples collected from a 1987 rape case was from the defendant Glen Woodall. Woodall was convicted of life terms with no parole. However in 1992 conviction was overturned due to a DNA test excluding Woodall ("Know the cases," 2012).
Police officers are usually the first persons at the scene of a crime may times they may withhold evidence, coerce confessions to quickly close a case, etc. resulting in wrongful conviction of an innocent person. Officers are sometimes face with pressure when trying to solve cases and can sometimes move to quickly as well as be under pressure to get the suspect off the street from causing public fear of further crimes being committed. In reference to prosecutors they may receive incomplete information or evidence from police officers. They may choose to prosecute a case to the political reasons cause them to rush the case along and the actual suspect may not be the individual in custody. Ramsey & Frank (2007) stated that prosecutors that pursue a case based on bias, limited information or less than reliable evidence, participate in the possibility that a wrongful conviction can occur. Tunnel vision in both police officers and prosecutors can also cause problems with evidence collected.
In closing, for decades individuals have been wrongfully convicted and incarcerated due to many factors. They have been taken away from their friends, family, and society and imprisoned for most of their lives serving consecutive life sentence without possibility of parole. This have taken a toll on their mental and physical well-being. Factors include mistaken witness identification, false accusation and statements, inadequate forensic evidence, police or prosecutorial misconduct, perjury, just to name a few. These individuals when released into society has many issues dealing with the outside world and end up turning back to the life in which they know for so many years. With continued research new causes of wrongful conviction and incarceration of individuals will be identified. Further, new methods of reducing cases of wrongful conviction will also be found.
Bedau, H. A., & Radelet, M. L. (1987). Miscarriages of justice in potentially capital cases.
Stanford Law Review, 40(1), 21-179.
Ramsey, R. J., & Frank, J. (2007). Wrongful conviction: Perception of criminal justice
professionals regarding the frequency of wrongful conviction and the extent of system
errors. Crime and Delinquency, 53(3), 436-470.
Borchard, E. M. (1932). Convicting the innocent: Errors of criminal justice. New Haven: Yale
Drizin, S. A., & Leo, R. A. (2004). The problem of false confessions in the post-dna world.
North Carolina Law Review, 82, 891-1004.
Garrett, B. L., & Neufeld, P. J. (2009). Invalid forensic science testimony and wrongful
convictions. Virginia Law Review, 95(1), 1-80.
Griebel, K. K. (2012). Fred Zain, the csi effect, and a philosophical idea of justice using west
Virginia as a model for change. West Virginia Law Review, 114(3), 1155-1193
Gross, S. R. (2008). Convicting the innocent. The annual review of law and social sciences, 4,
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Leo, R. A., & Ofshe, R. J. (1998). The consequences of false confessions: Deprivations of
Liberty and miscarriages of justice in the age of psychological interrogation. The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 88(2), 429-496.
Loftus, E. F. (2003). Our changeable memories: Legal and practical implications. Nature
Reviews: Neuroscience, 4, 231-234.
This solution explains issues related wrongful convictions and incarcerations. The sources used are also included in the solution.