One of the objectives of Criminal Law prosecution is Incapacitation, which means restricting a person´s freedom as punishment for a certain criminal act. Ideally, only people who are guilty would be convicted and punished accordingly. However, it is fair to say that this is not always the case.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the rate of wrongful convictions in the United States is estimated to be between 2% and 10%.
What is Wrongful Conviction?
A wrongful conviction happens when a person is convicted of a crime that they did not commit. These convictions are considered wrongful when the person is factually innocent of the charges brought against them, or when the case involves procedural errors that violate their rights.
Common Reasons for Wrongful Convictions
Wrongful convictions (or “actual innocence”) can happen because of a number of reasons. Here are the most common ones:
- Eyewitness Misidentification: Often, when a crime is committed, someone witnesses it, and are then prompted to identify the perpetrator of the offense. Most crimes take place very quickly, which means that eyewitnesses can make an honest mistake by pinpointing someone who did not commit the crime. Another consideration being that those who’ve committed a crime, often hide or change their appearance. Arguably, misidentification can also happen because a particular suspect stands out more in a lineup or photographs.
- Improper Forensic Science: Contrary to popular belief, forensic science can be flawed at times. It is true that DNA analysis has helped identify the guilty, but while this kind of technology was being developed, many other forensic techniques have not been subjected to a thorough scientific evaluation. This is why, in many cases, forensic results may be incorrect, helping to convict the wrong person.
- False Confessions: When people confess to committing a crime even if they are innocent, it often happens because the accused feels motivated by external influences, such as fear due to pressure from officers, an attempt to minimize their sentence when they feel they don´t have a good chance of proving their innocence, or other external motivations. False confessions can also happen when the accused is mentally ill or a juvenile.
- Perjury: This means that a witness makes a false statement about an accused person, which incriminates and helps convict them
- Inadequate Defense: Having an inadequate lawyer can often lead to a wrongful conviction. Some actions that a good lawyer should be able to do during a criminal trial are to investigate alibis, challenge forensic evidence, file pretrial motions, among other efforts.
Having an experienced lawyer on your side is key to proving a wrongful accusation and preventing unfair punishment. A lawyer can also assist and fight to modify a sentence or file an appeal or collateral attack to overturn a conviction.