When someone is wrongly convicted, that means that a person has been punished and sentenced for a crime that he has not committed. In devastating cases like these, the faith of the masses on the judicial system is lost when an innocent is convicted and made to suffer imprisonment for an offense he has not done. The fundamental legal value by which the criminal justice system is based upon, states that an accused is presumed to be innocent until proved guilty.
There are various reasons and causes due to which the innocent is subjected towards the brutality of wrongful conviction, like the incompetency and flaws in the investigation that is carried out by the investigatory machinery, deficiencies in the procedure, as well as, erroneous appellate stages of the criminal justice system.
However, various other factors contribute to the increasing rate of wrongful conviction. Such as false allegations, mislead police investigation, misperceptions of prosecutors about their role, pressure of community towards conviction, inadequate evidence for identification, perjury, false statements and confessions, inadequate and failed forensic evidence, judicial bias, poor presentation of the appellants case, and difficulty faced towards admitting fresh evidence during the appellant stage. Every instance of wrongful conviction brings forth the various failures in the criminal justice system and has prevented the system from functioning reasonably and with effectiveness.
Mentioned below are the various causes of wrongful conviction. However, these are not the only reasons that are responsible for the same: -
- Eyewitness Misidentification: This is one of the most significant causes of wrongful conviction in the entire world. It is a matter to be considered that the human brain does not function like a tape recorder and hence, the human being over a period cannot recollect the entire event precisely in the same manner. Thus, the same is like any other evidence that is found at the crime scene.
- Junk Science: There have been various scientific methods that have been applied, but without proper assessment and hence, in some instances, forensic analysts testify without appropriate scientific bases. There are also cases wherein at times forensic analyst indulge in misconduct.
- False Confessions: There have been multiple cases wherein innocent defendants being unaware, make incriminating statements, deliver shocking confessions, or at time plead guilty. Every confessor has one thing in common, and that is his decision to confess as, at some point of time in the process of interrogation, the said confessing will be of more benefit to the confessor then continuing to maintain innocence
- Government Misconduct: In various cases, it is the government officials that take specific steps and make sure that the defendant is convicted and this is done despite weak evidence
- Snitches: There are cases wherein snitches are paid to testify in return for testimony, and this is the reason why people are wrongly convicted
- Bad Lawyering: Overworked lawyers who fail to carry out an investigation, call witnesses, and also prepare for trial is also another reason for wrongful conviction
Specific reformatory measures should be adopted to fight the increasing brutality of wrongful conviction. The same are mentioned below:-
There should be emphasis put on the quasi-judicial role of the prosecution, and there shall be the consideration of the dangers of adopting the views of others. The policies implemented should also stress upon being open to considering alternative theories, that are put forward by defense counsels and other parties. There should be different considerations that should be applied to different mega-cases. In jurisdictions that lack pre-charge screening, the charges should be scrutinized, as soon as, possible. The provision and facility for the second opinion, as well as, case review should be made available in all areas. There should be internal checking and supervision carried out by senior staff to lead the court to an identified case. The judicial team should encourage a culture at the workplace, wherein answering questions and consulting is encouraged. The judicial system, as well as, the police authorities, should depose their duties in a way to achieve the final goal of rendering justice. There should be the regular training of the judicial authorities and the police machinery. The training of the judicial machinery should include knowledge regarding police procedures, whereas the training of the police should include knowledge regarding the legal system.
Eyewitness Identification and Testimony Specific standards and practices should be implemented and adopted by all police authorities. There should be an independent officer who is not part of the investigation to be given charge of lining up or photo spread. This will help maintain fairness in the investigation and trial procedure. The following are reasonable standards and practices that should be implemented and integrated by all police agencies:
- If possible, an officer who is independent of the investigation should be in charge of the line-up or photo spread. This officer should be unaware of the suspect– avoiding the possibility of inadvertent hints or reactions that could lead the witness before the identification takes place, or increase the witness's degree of confidence afterward.
- The witness should be advised that the actual perpetrator may not be in the line-up or photo spread, and therefore, the witness should not feel that they must identify
- The suspect should not stand out in the line-up or photospread as being different from the rest, based on the eyewitness' previous description of the suspect, or based on other factors that would draw extra attention to the suspect
- All of the witness's comments and statements made during the line-up or photospread viewing should be recorded verbatim, either in writing or if feasible and practical, by audio or videotaping
- If the identification process occurs in police premises, reasonable steps should be taken to remove the witness on completion of the line-up to avoid any tutoring by other officers involved in the investigation by contact with other witnesses
- Show-ups should be used only in selected circumstances, such as, when the suspect is apprehended near the crime scene shortly after the event
- A photo spread should be provided sequentially, and not as a package, thus preventing 'relative judgments.
It is the duty of the Courts to make use of all relevant procedures, evidence, and resources to provide the accused with a fair trial. Forensic science has been the key to serve justice and free the innocent but not in all cases. There are still various cases wherein the innocent is behind the bars whereas the real culprit is in the open. Hence there need to be steps adopted to safeguard the environment from the clutches of wrongful conviction to make justice prevail.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.