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Wrongfully Convictions

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Submitted By jshuman1
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Wrongfully Convictions

Introduction: Each year, many people that are innocent are dished out short or long term prison term for crimes that they did not commit. These innocent people have been “wrongfully convicted”. Sometimes these wrongfully convicted charges are unbeknownst to the judge and or jury; other times, they are just wrongfully convicted due to corrupt law enforcement officers. This corrupt issue is very wrong and should be done away with immediately, which is my reason my choosing this topic. In this research paper, I plan to find reasons for wrongful convictions, the actual number, statistics, of individuals that have been wrongful convicted, and those individuals who have stepped up to make a difference in this dilemma.
Although there aren’t any statistics kept by the Criminal Justice Department on the number of crimes that were recorded as wrongful convictions, research has estimated about 5% of the cases that are tried annual result in a false conviction. Since 1989, 1,241 people have been wrongfully convicted and later cleared of all charges based on evidence that they were innocent, according to the National Registry of Exonerations, a project of the law schools at the University of Michigan and Northwestern University (Clark 2013). The Michigan Innocence Clinic was the first clinic of its kind to work on non-DNA exonerations. Their work has revealed particular circumstances far too often seen in cases of wrongful conviction. These cases show us how the criminal justice system is in need of much repair and how the Michigan Innocence Clinic can combat troubling trends of the system. 
In each case that have been worked on, the Michigan Innocence Clinic have uncovered overlapping causes of wrongful convictions. There are many causes of wrongful convictions, but there are a few common causes that the Michigan Innocence Clinic have found: eyewitness misidentification, junk science, false confessions, government misconduct, snitches, and bad lawyering.
Eyewitness misidentification is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions nationwide, playing a role in nearly 75% of convictions overturned through DNA testing. While eyewitness testimony can be persuasive evidence before a judge or jury, 30 years of strong social science research has proven that eyewitness identification is often unreliable. Research shows that the human mind is not like a tape recorder; we neither record events exactly as we see them, nor recall them like a tape that has been rewound. Instead, witness memory is like any other evidence at a crime scene; it must be preserved carefully and retrieved methodically, or it can be contaminated.
In case after case, DNA has proven what scientists already know — that eyewitness identification is frequently inaccurate. In the wrongful convictions caused by eyewitness misidentification, the circumstances varied, but judges and juries all relied on testimony that could have been more accurate if reforms proven by science had been implemented. Many of the cases of the wrongfully accused were championed by the Innocence Project, a well-known group that works with many inmates to try to clear their names based on DNA evidence. The group has documented 289 post-conviction DNA exonerations. The earliest came in 1989, when DNA testing was being heavily used to re-examine cases for the first time.
The Innocence Project has worked on cases in which: A witness made identification in a “show-up” procedure from the back of a police car hundreds of feet away from the suspect in a poorly lit parking lot in the middle of the night. A witness in a rape case was shown a photo array where only one photo of the person police suspected was the perpetrator was marked with an “R.” Witnesses substantially changed their description of a perpetrator (including key information such as height, weight and presence of facial hair) after they learned more about a particular suspect. Witnesses only made an identification after multiple photo arrays or lineups — and then made hesitant identifications (saying they “thought” the person “might be” the perpetrator, for example), but at trial the jury was told the witnesses did not waver in identifying the suspect (Grisham 1992). Junk science, also referred to as unreliable or improper forensic science, is known as another cause of wrongful conviction. Since the late 1980s, DNA analysis has helped identify the guilty and exonerate the innocent nationwide. While DNA testing was developed through extensive scientific research at top academic centers, many other forensic techniques — such as hair microscopy, bite mark comparisons, firearm tool mark analysis and shoe print comparisons — have never been subjected to rigorous scientific evaluation. Meanwhile, forensics techniques that have been properly validated — such as serology, commonly known as blood typing — are sometimes improperly conducted or inaccurately conveyed in trial testimony. In some cases, forensic analysts have fabricated results or engaged in other misconduct. Unlike DNA testing, many forensic disciplines – particularly those that deal with comparing impression marks and objects like hair and fiber – were developed solely to solve crime. These disciplines have evolved primarily through their use in individual cases. Without the benefit of basic research or adequate financial resources, applied research has also been minimal. In fact, many forensic testing methods have been applied with little or no scientific validation and with inadequate assessments of their robustness or reliability. Furthermore, they lacked scientifically acceptable standards for quality assurance and quality control before their implementation in cases (Grisham 1992).
As a result, forensic analysts sometimes testify in cases without a proper scientific basis for their findings. Testimony about more dubious forensic disciplines, such as efforts to match a defendant’s teeth to marks on a victim or attempts to compare a defendant’s voice to a voicemail recording, are cloaked in science but lack even the most basic scientific standards. Even within forensic disciplines that are more firmly grounded in science, evidence is often made to sound more precise than it should. For example, analysts will testify that hairs from a crime scene “match” or “are consistent with” defendants’ hair – but because scientific research on validity and reliability of hair analysis is lacking, they have no way of knowing how rare these similarities are, so there is no way to know how meaningful this evidence is (Grisham 1992).
In about 25% of DNA exoneration cases, innocent defendants made incriminating statements, delivered outright confessions or pled guilty. This is when the false confessions take place. •Confessions obtained from juveniles are often unreliable – children can be easy to manipulate and are not always fully aware of their situation. Children and adults both are often convinced that that they can “go home” as soon as they admit guilt. People with mental disabilities have often falsely confessed because they are tempted to accommodate and agree with authority figures. Furthermore, many law enforcement interrogators are not given any special training on questioning suspects with mental disabilities. An impaired mental state due to mental illness, drugs or alcohol may also elicit false admissions of guilt. Mentally capable adults also give false confessions due to a variety of factors like the length of interrogation, exhaustion or a belief that they can be released after confessing and prove their innocence later. Regardless of the age, capacity or state of the confessor, what they often have in common is a decision – at some point during the interrogation process – that confessing will be more beneficial to them than continuing to maintain their innocence (Grisham 1992).
Some wrongful convictions are caused by honest mistakes. But in far too many cases, the very people who are responsible for ensuring truth and justice — law enforcement officials and prosecutors — lose sight of these obligations and instead focus solely on securing convictions. The cases of wrongful convictions uncovered by DNA testing are filled with evidence of negligence, fraud or misconduct by prosecutors or police departments. While many law enforcement officers and prosecutors are honest and trustworthy, criminal justice is a human endeavor and the possibility for negligence, misconduct and corruption exists. Even if one officer of every thousand is dishonest, wrongful convictions will continue to occur. DNA exonerations have exposed official misconduct at every level and stage of a criminal investigation (CWC 2014).
Common forms of misconduct by law enforcement officials include: employing suggestion when conducting identification procedures, coercing false confessions, lying or intentionally misleading jurors about their observations, failing to turn over exculpatory evidence to prosecutors, providing incentives to secure unreliable evidence from informants.
Common forms of misconduct by prosecutors include: withholding exculpatory evidence from defense, deliberately mishandling, mistreating or destroying evidence, allowing witnesses they know or should know are not truthful to testify, pressuring defense witnesses not to testify, relying on fraudulent forensic experts, making misleading arguments that overstate the probative value of testimony (Amnesty International USA 2013).
In more than 15% of wrongful conviction cases overturned through DNA testing, an informant testified against the defendant at the original trial. Often, 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. The registry itself, which looks deeply into 873 specific cases of wrongful conviction, examined cases based on court documents as well as from groups that have long documented wrongful convictions. That group of wrongfully convicted spent more than 10,000 total years in prison, according to the report, with an average of 11 years each.
The resources of the justice system are often stacked against poor defendants. Matters only become worse when a person is represented by an ineffective, incompetent or overburdened defense lawyer. The failure of overworked lawyers to investigate, call witnesses or prepare for trial has led to the conviction of innocent people. When a defense lawyer doesn't do his or her job, the defendant suffers. Shrinking funding and access to resources for public defenders and court-appointed attorneys is only making the problem worse.
More than 2,000 people have been exonerated of serious crimes since 1989 in the United States, according to a report by college researchers who have established the first national registry of exonerations. Researchers say their registry is the largest database of these types of cases and showcases some of the major issues with the criminal justice system, including that the leading causes of wrongful convictions are perjury, faulty witness identification and misconduct by prosecutors. "No matter how tragic they are, even 2,000 exonerations over 23 years is a tiny number in a country with 2.3 million people in prisons and jails," says a report released by the authors. "If that were the extent of the problem we would be encouraged by these numbers. But it’s not. These cases merely point to a much larger number of tragedies that we do not know about."
In the later years, there have been new statistical factors behind wrongful convictions that have been discovered. Jon B. Gould, J.D., Ph.D., a professor and the director of the Washington Institute for Public and International Affairs Research at American University and his team of researchers conducted a three year, first of its kind, large-scale empirical study Predicting Erroneous Convictions: A Social Science Approach to Miscarriages of Justice employing social scientific methods. It was funded by NIJ, and an NIJ video features Gould discussing wrongful convictions. After identifying 460 cases employing sophisticated analytical methods matched with a qualitative review of the cases from a panel of experts, 10 statistically significant factors were identified that distinguish a wrongful conviction from a “near miss” (a case in which an innocent defendant was acquitted or had charges dismissed before trial) NIJ 2013).
“Surprisingly unlike airplane crashes or near midair collisions where the FAA moves in to investigate and reconstruct events in an effort to prevent future catastrophes, wrongful convictions have rarely been investigated beyond a specific case study,” says Gould. “This is especially troubling since our criminal legal system is predicated on finding defendants guilty beyond a reasonable doubt before imprisoning them.”
The resulting 10 factor model applied by Gould and his team can be used to accurately predict an erroneous conviction versus a “near miss” nearly 91 percent of the time and is a useful tool for jurisdictions around the country to adopt remedies to address the 10 weaknesses with little cost according to Gould. The biggest investment is time, training and the acknowledgement that there is room for improvement from police, prosecutors and defense interests. A key to the model’s development was the unprecedented cooperation of an expert panel composed of stakeholders from the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, Police Foundation, National Innocence Project and National District Attorneys Association. From the quantitative and qualitative analysis, Gould and his team determined that prevention begins at the police station starting with the interrogation and investigation of alibis. This is followed by several opportunities along the way to identify the innocent before they are wrongfully convicted (CWC 2014).
The 10 factors in various combinations create this tunnel vision where a prosecutor with a weak case focuses on an accused even more intently rather than considering alternative suspects precisely because tunnel vision has set in – in other words the case seems to add up from the investigation but is sufficiently weak relying on perhaps a misidentification. For Gould this was the most surprising result of his research because he and his team expected strong prosecutorial cases to result in wrongful convictions since the evidence was compelling for the prosecutor to seek conviction but instead the study revealed the contrary. This led the team to look at weak defense counsel, poor explanation/presentation of forensic evidence, and police practices that could trigger the course of events spiraling out of control to a wrongful conviction because the weak prosecution case in turn is not adequately challenged by the defense attorney and the prosecution for one reason or the other may fail to disclose exculpatory evidence- a Brady violation (NIJ 2013).
These factors are not the only causes of wrongful convictions. Each case is unique and many include a combination of issues. However, these causes are the most common and are seen on many of the cases that are/were ruled wrongfully convicted cases. To stop these wrongful convictions from occurring in the future, the criminal justice system must be fixed. Successful commissions are already at work with solving this wrongful conviction problem. Eleven states have formed criminal justice reform commission to examine causes of wrongful convictions and reforms to prevent injustice. The 30-member North Carolina Actual Innocence Commission was created by the state’s Chief Justice in 2002.
The commission has focused on the many causes of wrongful conviction and is considered a national model for effectiveness and reform. In Pennsylvania, where nine men have been proven innocent by DNA testing in recent years, the state Senate created an Innocence Commission in 2006. California, Connecticut and Wisconsin have also created commissions to study the causes of wrongful conviction, and in 2003, the Illinois legislature passed into law 85 recommendations made by a special commission created there to study capital punishment and create safeguards against all wrongful convictions (Grisham 1992). In conclusion, I researched that there are numerous reasons why people are wrongfully convicted. It could have either been done on purpose or by mistake. However, many individuals and law enforcement companies are working to resolve this issue over the years.
Works Cited
"Causes of Wrongful Convictions." Michigan Law. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Nov. 2013. <>.
Clark, Maggie. "Analysis: Wrongful convictions sharpen focus on death penalty." USA Today. Gannett, 13 Nov. 2013. Web. 30 Nov. 2013. <>.
CWC. "Center on Wrongful Convictions." : Northwestern University Law School. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Apr. 2014. <>.
"Death Penalty and Innocence." Amnesty International USA. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Nov. 2013. <>.
Grisham, John. "Innocence Causes." The Innocence Project - Home. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Nov. 2013. <>.
"Predicting and Preventing Wrongful Convictions." National Institute of Justice. N.p., 8 Mar. 2013. Web. 18 Apr. 2014. <>.…...

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Wrongful Convictions

...Wrongful convictions happen every day within our justice system, according to the , Bureau of Justice Statistics, admits that statistically 8% to 12% of all state prisoners are either actually or factually innocent. One out of every 100 adults in the United States is behind bars. If we take those on parole or probation into account, that ratio jumps to 1 out of 31 adults. America, the Land of the Free, imprisons five times more people than Great Britain, nine times more people in Germany, and 12 times more people than Japan. Only about 8 percent of sentenced prisoners in federal prison were incarcerated for violent crimes, and about 52 percent of sentenced prisoners for state prisons. Within three years of their release, roughly two-thirds of former prisoners are re-arrested, while 52 percent are re-incarcerated. Those statistics only show a small part of the lingering problems with our criminal justice system. What about the reported 1-2 percent of our prison population that shouldn’t be there in the first place? Radley Balko, senior writer for Huffington Post and contributing editor at Reason, says since 1989, “DNA testing has freed 268 people who were convicted of crimes they did not commit.” (HVnews, 2011) We are paying taxes to not only take care of the convicted but also the innocent. With everyone wanting fast justice, many people in power like police, judges and lawyers tend to rush through a case if they feel they are able to get something stick without......

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