Flaws in the System: Wrongful Convictions

wrongful conviction, false conviction, Illinois criminal defense lawyerIn many high-profile criminal cases, the court of public opinion will decide on a defendant’s guilt long before a trial ever begins. In fact, you can probably think of several examples in which you “knew” a famous suspect was guilty or not guilty of a violent crime simply based your impressions. American society, however, places a great deal of faith in the criminal justice system and, for the most part, if a defendant is convicted in court, the general public tends to believe he or she committed the crime. But what if he or she did not and was convicted anyway? Sadly, wrongful convictions sometimes ruin the lives of innocent people, and some of the reasons behind flawed verdicts may surprise you.

Factors of Wrongful Convictions

A recent study funded by the National Institute of Justice and conducted by a team from American University in Washington, D.C., looked at more than 450 cases to identify the factors that could contribute to a defendant being wrongfully convicted. In each case, the defendant, whether convicted or not, was later found to be factually innocent of the crime of which he or she was accused. The researchers, led by Dr. Jon B. Gould, J.D., director of the Washington Institute for Public and International Affairs Research at American University, compared the cases of wrongful convictions with those in which an innocent suspect was found not guilty or had the charges dismissed.

While the team narrowed down a list of ten variable factors that contributed to the likelihood of a false conviction, the study ultimately focused on a few of them:

“State Punitiveness”: In jurisdictions and states with harsher stances on crime and punishment, wrongful convictions were found to be much more likely. Unspoken pressure from the state and public seemed to work against the accused, “as state agents overlook or under-value evidence that contradicts the assumption of guilt.”

Brady Violations and Strength of the State’s Case: Surprisingly, erroneous convictions were found to be more prevalent in situations where the prosecution’s case was weaker. Research suggested that a weak set of facts encouraged behavior on the part of prosecutors to bolster their case, including suppressing evidence in violation of the Brady v. Maryland rule and employing non-eyewitness testimony.

Age and Prior History: Young defendants and those with a previous criminal record were found more likely to be wrongfully convicted. Police and prosecutor biases seemed to play a role, as, once such a suspect is identified, efforts to find alternative explanations slow, and exculpatory evidence appeared to be downplayed.

Forensic Error or Reliability: Overstating or misrepresenting the accuracy of a forensic analysis seemed to impact false convictions much more often than the testing processes themselves. A separate, unrelated admission by the Justice Department earlier this year points to similar problems in a number of FBI-investigated cases.

Refusal to Admit or Correct Mistakes: The research found that, if a mistake in judgment or process was made early in the case, it often led to compounding of the error, rather than the mistake being identified and corrected. This points to a larger, systemic problem, as building a case on a flawed foundation is not really a case at all.

Legal Help for Your Case

The study also found that a strong defense by hardworking attorneys significantly increased the likelihood of an acquittal or the charges being dropped. That is why, if you have been charged with a crime, it is so important to work with a lawyer committed to protecting your life and your future. Contact an experienced criminal defense attorney in Rolling Meadows today to get the help you need and deserve.

 

Sources:

http://www.american.edu/media/news/SPA_News_Wrongful-Convictions-Study.cfm

https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/241389.pdf

https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/brady_rule

http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/report-doj-fbi-admit-years-flawed-testimony-forensic-unit-n344401

 

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