Garret (2017) has defined wrongful convictions as the situation where individuals have been handed punishments of either short or extended jail terms which they do not deserve. According to him the act of wrongful conviction has been constantly made possible due to several reasons with the inclusions of DNA exoneration of actual victims. In the world today many people have been handed sentences for crimes they did not commit, those handed the sentences and punishments which are not rightfully theirs are the “wrongfully convicted”. On some occasions, the act of wrongful conviction has been made possible due to the imminent rot in a country’s judicial and law enforcement agencies.
The wrongful conviction has been considered as a horrible injustice in society and has been on the rise recently when innocent people are forced to spend time in prisons or even sentenced to death yet the actual committers of the crimes are constantly being exonerated from the crimes they committed. Apart from the above reasons for wrongful convictions, my paper is set to clearly outline the underlying reasons why this unjust act is still taking place in the current society in which we live in today.
Effects of wrongful convictions
Of recent, the issue of wrongful conviction has become an accepted reality in the current society. Our attention has not only been drawn to high profile cases but also to the unavoidable effects that arise from wrongful convictions to individuals. If a person is wrongfully convicted, the actual crime committer is depressed, guilty and devastated. Research works have found out that the impacts experienced by the actual crime victims are worse as compared to the ones who are wrongfully convicted.
From the research, victims of crime confessed to having floods of guilt placed on them, the guilt of being released even if they knew too well they had taken part in the crime. (Norris et al 2019)
Noting that most cases of wrongful convictions attracted the attention of the media, the media on most occasions focused on the wrongfully accused individual, this according to created some kind of psychological torture. Taking, for example, the George Stinney Jr case, although he was exonerated 70 years later, the young frail boy was psychologically tortured when he was apprehended for the murder of the girls. The boy was segregated in Mill town in South Carolina; this segregation could have resulted in mental disturbance to the young soul.
The occurrences of wrongful convictions have also exposed the inefficiencies in the justice systems, this case gives a clear example of how justice systems could be in a rush to deliver unjust rulings to the innocent individuals, as noted by the Circuit Judge Carmen Mullen while overturning an earlier ruling that saw the young boy being electrocuted, the judge stated that the speed by which the state departments had dished out justice against the boy could not only be considered as shocking but also very unfair. This case exposed the serious injustices in the judicial systems, noting that the ruling of the case was done in less than three hours.
Campbell (2017) has identified another unavoidable effect of wrongful conviction as having to cope with wrongful imprisonment. He has clearly outlined the detrimental effects of long-term confinements to those who are wrongfully convicted. The conviction has been found to carry with itself considerable amounts of the stress of losing previous relationships and having to create new friends in the unfriendly prison environment.
Campbell has further identified the issues regarding mental state worsening due to the undetermined nature of effect these sentences might have on the individuals. It is important to note that those who have been wrongfully convicted have to cope with the ‘pains of confinement’
Leo (2017) has argued that those wrongfully convicted and subsequently sent to prisons have been found to physically withdraw themselves from the rest; this is because they are not able to completely come into terms with their confinements. He has further stated that wrongfully convicted inmates always incubate the ideas of committing suicides even after being exonerated this is due to social isolation in prisons. There have been several cases of suicide attempts among prisoners given that their confinements resulted from the miscarriage of justice.
Experiences and actions resulting from wrongful conviction have been found to generally increase anger and a subsequent feeling of aggression towards the society, this kind of hatred and anger has been specifically directed to the judicial systems.
Studies have indicated that ex-convicts who were wrongfully convicted have always felt a lot of anger than what they felt before the conviction.
Rates of occurrence of false convictions
Studies have indicated that close to 10,000 people in the US have been wrongfully convicted each year. Out of these 2.3 % and 5 % of those convicted in the US are innocent, a study conducted in the year 2014 had shown a 4.1 % innocent rate among the prisoners who were on death row. Out of the total false convictions, this can be loosely translated to about 340 innocent people being wrongfully executed in the United States. Most false convictions have been registered for crimes such as rape and murder; subsequently making the two commons for false convictions because the judicial system is always not too keen in handling them and not much attention is proffered on them. (Amsel et al 2108)
Causes of wrongful convictions
Several issues have been connected to the causes of wrongful convictions, and some have been included below
Eye witness testimony
Kaplan (2018) has argued that most eyewitnesses have been found to provide very unreliable pieces of evidence during the court hearings. It is noted that law officers and the prosecution officials have always relied on the evidence given to them by the eyewitnesses. They have always held the belief the information from the witnesses can be vital to help them unearth the truth. Prosecutors have placed their full belief on the witnesses under oath to provide truthful information however this has not always been the case as psychologists have tried to bring forward some arguments regarding the normal memory lapses in human beings which has the subsequent ability to interfere with what they can comfortably remember.
In addition to this, eyewitness evidence is unreliable in some situations where there are excess police involvements; in such situations, the police may influence the information provided by the witnesses.
Errors in the legal system
Wrongful convictions have been said to result from unavoidable errors in the judicial and legal systems occurring during prosecutions. Other errors have been found to result from the unprofessional behavior of the police and the jury thus leading to the subsequent confinement of the innocent persons.
As discussed above under the most common forms of wrongful conviction includes murder and rape. My case study is therefore focused on wrongful convictions on murder. George Stinney Jr had been wrongfully convicted in 1944 for the murder of two white girls and subsequently sent to his death. However, the ruling that saw him die has been overturned 70 years later. Judge Carmen while giving a new verdict on the case expressed shock and described how the state had handled the boy’s case as being unfair. According to the judge, the first cause for the wrongful conviction could have resulted from the speed in which the case was handled thus leading to the great injustice on the minor.
George Stinney Jr was sentenced to death for allegations of having participated in the killing of two white girls in South Carolina; his trial had reportedly lasted for only 3 hours before the decision was passed. The trial had indicated erroneous errors on the prosecution part as clearly no physical evidence or witnesses had linked him to the murder. George had initially been kept away from the parents and his lawyers, this kind of segregation could have resulted in mental disturbances to the young boy. There have been claims that the young boy could have been coerced into admitting to the claims by the police owing to his age and level of mental development, he could have said anything that he probably thought could make the police happy. (Kaplan 2018)
Despite the lack of evidence to link him to the murder, he was sentenced to death concerning the information from the police who could have been biased. After his arrest and the subsequent unjust hearing, he was sentenced to death under horrifying conditions with the killers stating that the electric current passed onto the chair could have been too much for the little boy. (Carrico 2018)
This case has been considered as a case of wrongful conviction by a biased justice system during a period where those investigating the case, the prosecution and the judges were all whites. In the recent ruling that had proved the boy innocent, the judge concluded that the evidence from the boy that was initially used to make the previous decision had a high likelihood of being forced into him by the authorities and the police. The failure to give the young boy a fair trial in 1944 by the Carolina court has subsequently exposed the detrimental rot in the judicial system that has resulted in several other wrongful convictions.
Amsel, T. T., Shurany, T., Gordon, N. J., & Widacki, J. (2018). European Polygraph nr 2 (44), 2018.
Campbell, K. M., Denov, M., & Lenet, J. (2017). Wrongful Convictions. The Encyclopedia of Corrections, 1-4.
Carrico, A. H. (2018). Sounding social justice in American opera: race and gender in Stinney: an American execution. Folk Life, 56(2), 77-92.
Garrett, B. L. (2017). Actual innocence and wrongful convictions. Academy for Justice, A Report on Scholarship and Criminal Justice Reform (Erik Luna ed., 2017 Forthcoming).
Kaplan, J. (2018). Perceptions of coercion: A comparison of perspectives (Doctoral dissertation).
Leo, R. A. (2017). The criminology of wrongful conviction: A decade later. Journal of contemporary criminal justice, 33(1), 82-106.
Norris, R. J., & Mullinix, K. J. (2019). Framing innocence: an experimental test of the effects of wrongful convictions on public opinion. Journal of Experimental Criminology, 1-24.
Garrett, B. L. (2017). Actual innocence and wrongful convictions. Academy for Justice, A Report on Scholarship and Criminal Justice Reform (Erik Luna ed., 2017 Forthcoming).
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