Eyewitness misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions in the United States. Over 75 percent of DNA exoneration cases have involved convictions based on mistaken identification evidence. A variety of factors can affect the reliability of an identification, mainly the simple fallibility of human memory.
Forensic science is a useful tool, but many forensic disciplines apply techniques and methods that have not been approved by the scientific community. Unvalidated forensic science, such as hair and fiber comparison and bite-mark analysis, have played a role in over 50 percent of convictions later overturned by the use of DNA evidence, proving that there has to be higher standards for forensic testimony at trial.
Innocent defendants have made incriminating statements, confessed, or plead guilty in approximately 25 percent of DNA exonerations in the United States. Multiple factors can contribute to false confessions, such as a defendant’s poor mental health and/or the use of coercive interrogation techniques. These factors result in an often threatened and confused defendant, who will confess to the crime in an attempt to relieve their current discomfort.
In 15 percent of convictions later overturned using DNA evidence, the defendant was imprisoned because a jailhouse informant testified against them. Jailhouse informants often have incentives to lie on the stand in order to escape prosecution themselves or receive shorter sentences. Jailhouse informant testimony is especially dangerous when such incentives are not disclosed to the jury, so they do not understand it could be bias. It is important to regulate the use of incentivized informants as to reduce the possibility that these unreliable witnesses mislead judges and juries.
While most prosecutors and law enforcement officials are honest and have the best intentions to protect society, the pressure to secure a conviction at times may lead police and prosecutors to act in an inappropriate, unfair, or unlawful manner. This government misconduct can include withholding or fabricating evidence, coercive interrogations by investigators, or suggestive methods used by police to obtain an identification. While police and prosecutorial misconduct is more likely in high profile cases with a great amount of press coverage, because law enforcement feels pressure to obtain a suspect.
Defendants are guaranteed a right to counsel but an ineffective defense attorney can lead to the wrongful conviction of a factually innocent person. Inadequate defense lawyering can include the overall failure to prepare for trial, to investigate the crime and the defendant’s alibi, and to challenge witnesses and experts.
Systemic racism shows up in our lives across institutions and society. It includes the wealth gap, employment, housing discrimination, incarceration, drug arrests, immigration arrests, and infant mortality.
There is no obvious sign of America’s broken criminal justice system than that of the contrasting impact on people of color. African Americans are about six times likely to be incarcerated compared to their white counterparts. As humans we unconsciously have attitudes or stereotypes about race that help us understand the world around us. Our decisions in life are based on this understanding and we act upon them often unaware of our attitudes. This reflex response is known as Implicit Racial Bias (IRB).
IRB affects us all regardless of where our racial biases stand or our associations with members of other races.
If you are seeking justice for wrongful conviction or you want to join the fight, contact your local Innocents Project, Centurion, and The Center on Wrongful Convictions.
Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted (Canada)
The Innocence Project
time.com › wrongly-convicted
en.wikipedia.org › wiki › Miscarriage_of_justice