Wrongful Convictions in the Criminal Justice System

Published: 2021-06-29 07:11:23
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Category: Social Issues

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The legitimacy of the criminal justice system is historically upon its past effectiveness and objectivity. The effectiveness of the system is assessed by its ability to investigate and identify crime, identify offenders and impose appropriate retribution to those who have been convicted of crimes. Its objectivity is judged by its degree of diligence and the energy the system expends in ensuring that there is a balance of resources between the defendant who is accused and the equity with which the case moves through the criminal justice system. The system does this by providing maximum protection of evidence and effective legal representation at all stages of the judiciary process.
When wrongful convictions occur, the criminal justice system is weakened and destabilized. When a defendant is wrongfully convicted, he is penalized for a crime he did not commit. Likewise, when there is breakdown in the system, the actual offender goes unpunished. When wrongful convictions occur, public confidence in the corrections system is compromised and undermined. Human error is the most frequent reason that is recognized in wrongful convictions. Causes of wrongful convictions within the CJS include mistaken identification by someone who was an eyewitness, dishonesty of eyewitnesses, false confessions of those accused of a crime, overreliance on snitches and informants, inept defendant attorneys, and misconduct on the part of police or prosecutors. It is unethical and unacceptable to allow wrongful convictions to stand in our system of justice, even though some may be sympathetic to unintentional errors in the criminal process. Unfortunately, there are sometimes intentional acts perpetrated against defendants and no degree of change will excuse these occurrences.
People who have been wrongfully convicted sometimes spend many years in prison before any action is successful in shedding light on their plight. Even when evidence to exonerate them is successful in releasing them from prison, they sometimes live shattered lives with no meaningful employment, no money, and family who have sometimes separated from them. In order to prevent these tragedies from happening, it is important to look at the processes and procedures that allow these wrongful convictions to occur in the first place.
What is the cause of these wrongful conviction tragedies? According to the literature, there are a multitude of reasons, but there are six reasons that are most often identified. The primary reason for wrongful convictions is error in an eyewitness account. The testimony of an eyewitness can be extraordinarily important in cases where there is very little evidence of wrongdoing. In many cases, the eyewitness error is not intentional, but the victim is traumatized and nevertheless wants someone to pay for the crime. Eyewitness error can also occur when there are physical similarities between the perpetrator and the alleged perpetrator. According to Jain (2001) in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, eyewitness error is the cause for many wrongful convictions. Jain's article explains that "a study of 84% of DNA exonerations revealed that mistaken eyewitness identification was the primary evidence used to convict the innocent defendants" (Jain, 2001). Eyewitness misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions in the United States. Over 75% of DNA exoneration cases have involved convictions based, at least in part, on mistaken identification evidence. A variety of factors can affect the reliability of an identification, including the circumstances of the witnessed event, individual characteristics of the witness, and the methods used by investigators to obtain the identification.

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