Wrongful Convictions: Is Any Number Acceptable?

On behalf of Law Office of Steven Haney posted in Expunging a Criminal History on Thursday, June 14, 2012

The justice system in Illinois and throughout the nation is designed to punish those who have broken the law. Unfortunately, the system does not always work perfectly. Too many people end up falsely convicted of crimes – such as sex crimes – they never committed, dealing with a penalty they do not deserve.

Since 1989, almost 900 overturned convictions have been registered with the National Registry of Exonerations, a list of U.S. prisoners exonerated of serious crimes. Eyewitness mistakes are the leading cause of false convictions. Other common causes include fabricated crimes and misconduct by authorities.

When putting together the database, researchers discovered at least 1,100 other cases where wrongful convictions were overturned because of police corruption scandals. In many of these cases, the police had planted evidence on innocent individuals.

There are over 2.5 million people in prison in the U.S. today, but there is no way to know how many of these inmates were wrongfully convicted because it can take a long time for the right evidence to surface. DNA evidence is a key piece of modern forensic science that has spurred exoneration in many cases. Still, only 37 percent of convictions in the exoneration database were overturned by DNA evidence.

In one particular case, a man was convicted of molesting two underage girls because one of the victims identified him as their molester. After 20 years, the victims recanted their story. They told police their grandmother wanted them to identify the defendant in order to protect their cousin, the person who had actually committed the crime.

Reintegration into society is a major issue facing those who have been wrongfully convicted and released. Most families do not even survive the time in prison, and many states are unwilling or unable to help these individuals find jobs or get their records expunged.

Source: msnbc.com, “Researchers: More than 2000 false convictions in past 23 years,” Elizabeth Chuck, May 21, 2012