Professor Barbara B. Booker
English Composition I
4 May 2021
Corrupt Justice System
One of the first rules of life that we are taught at a young age are the laws a citizen must abide by. These laws are unfortunately broken, but in certain circumstances law enforcement officers sometimes make mistakes which lead to wrongful conviction. When these situations occur, an instance that potentially comes into play would be withholding evidence. Withholding evidence can lead to horrible outcomes to the person convicted. This outcome can result in someone serving years of jail time, hateful attention from the world, and fracturing of families. When certain cases have been proven to be misled, the defendant is finally free but with an unforgettable trauma as well as hate to their name for the rest of their lives. Hundreds of people get wrongfully convicted of crimes every year as a result of criminal proceedings misled by our justice system; these wrongful convictions have remained unjust after years of undeserved jail time and even after death of the defendants. Not only the defendant’s life but as well as the attorney, judge and court can be charged with wrongful convictions.
According to (Ramsey, Robert J., and James Frank), anywhere from “1% to 3% of convictions each year may be wrongful.” In the United States, there are approximately 70,000 convictions annually according to a Syracuse University report from data provided from the US Justice Department. Given the data from both reports, this translates to approximately 700 to 2100 persons that are wrongfully convicted each year. One percent may sound acceptable, but that translates to approximately a minimum of 700 innocent people each year that are removed from their lives to serve time for crimes they did not commit. Sometimes a person will be found innocent after already being convicted, this is called being exonerated. With our growing technology, cases can now be re-opened and re-investigated if there is evidence shown for that to be necessary. Although we have a process to undo wrongful convictions, we need to look at how and why this could occur today.
Convictions in our Justice system rely on evaluations of facts presented about the innocence or guilt of a defendant. The facts are based on proper investigation from our law enforcement officers and testimony from eyewitnesses. Eyewitness testimonies are being proven more and more unreliable and that a person cannot be responsible for remembering evidence that can convict someone for longer than 48 hours after the incidence. This can lead to false claims as well as not using all eyewitness testimonies in a case. In some cases, eye-witness testimony can be a major role in how a case turns out. For example, Ruben Cantu, 17, was convicted for capital murder and was killed on death-row. Just to find out 12 years later that his friend, also being the co-defendant, watched him be falsely accused and Cantu was not even present at the scene of the crime. The lone eyewitness recanted his testimony at the same time his friend confessed to standing by watching his conviction (“Executed But Possibly Innocent.”).
Other key factors to wrongful convictions are forensic science of evidence collected and corruption in the system itself. Cameron Todd Willingham was a defendant that was convicted with arson murder and was believed he set a fire which killed his three children. Later, the Forensic Science Commission found out the evidence was misinterpreted, and the fire was an accident. In Mr. Willingham’s case, he had been unfortunately put to death, but at least his name was cleared. Darby J. Tillis was convicted of first-degree murder as well as the co-defendant Perry Cobb. The Illinois Supreme Court later found out that not only was their key witness an accomplice of the real killer, but the judge was taking bribes. As a result, Tillis and Cobbs were exonerated for their conviction.
Though exoneration through proper evidence being brought to light can lead to release of the wrongful convicted. There is also the unacceptable outcome, where you can be sentenced to death and then proven innocent. There have been 185 cases since 1973 where former death-row prisoners have been exonerated for all their charges. Larry Griffin is another example of someone who was convicted for murder and put to death wrongfully. Griffin had always maintained his innocence, and later evidence was found that proved Griffin was telling the truth. In addition, the officer on the case found that the eyewitness account they used, to be false. There was another eyewitness that was never contacted in the trial. Later after Griffin’s death, the eyewitness, which was not contacted, said Griffin was not present at the crime scene the night the crime occurred (Miclette, Mark).
It is often argued that there are not wrongful convictions as it is up to each side to present their arguments for the jury to make their decision. It is true that due to the process, everyone is given many opportunities to get justice. If someone is convicted, a majority of the jury decided that evidence shown was definitive proof that person was guilty. Since the conviction processed is based on the jury deliberating what evidence was shown, any person found guilty is rightfully convicted. The fault is not in the conviction, but in the presentation of invalid or faulty evidence. Admittedly this could lead someone to think that since the process works and convictions are always just. However, just because the process works, this doesn’t excuse a person not getting a factual version of the events that lead to the charges or a fair representation during the process. Therefore, misrepresentation of evidence or lack or effort which leads to a conviction is wrong.
All things considered, as we go about our normal day lives people are either in the process of or in jail for being wrongfully convicted. Human nature will lead to breaking of laws but will also lead to mistakes during investigations and arrests for those crimes. Whether from intentional bending of truth or timelines of statements from witnesses, facts sometimes are misrepresented. Advancement in technology is reducing the mistakes that might prevent and being instrumental in shedding new light on individuals that in jail for wrongful convictions, but not in all cases. Some argue that the number of just convictions justify the few mistaken cases when someone is wrongfully convicted but explain that to the families of Larry Griffin or Ruben Cantu who were killed for crimes they did not commit. Even though our Justice system is one of the most tested in the world, wrongful convictions occur almost daily. It is important that we improve our processes and ensure accountability of evidence so we can stop this from happening. If we don’t, it may be a normal day in your life that it happens to you.
“Judge Rules in Favor of Three Chicago Officers in 26-Year Wrongful Conviction Case.” Law Enforcement Technology, vol. 36, no. 9, 2009, pp. 114. ProQuest, https://eu1.proxy.openathens.net/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/trade-journals/judge-rules-favor-three-chicago-officers-26-year/docview/229820605/se-2?accountid=13108.
Clarke, Matt. “Second Circuit Upholds $36 Million Jury Award, $5 Million in Fees in Wrongful Conviction Case.” Prison Legal News, vol. 28, no. 12, 2017, pp. 54. ProQuest, https://eu1.proxy.openathens.net/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/trade-journals/second-circuit-upholds-36-million-jury-award-5/docview/1992612427/se-2?accountid=13108.
Aprile, J. V. “Confidential Information and Wrongful Convictions.” Criminal Justice, vol. 25, no. 2, 2010, pp. 50-51. ProQuest, https://eu1.proxy.openathens.net/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/trade-journals/confidential-information-wrongful-convictions/docview/753456932/se-2?accountid=13108.
Team, by: Content. “Exonerated – Definition, Examples, Cases, Processes.” Legal Dictionary, 4 Oct. 2018, legaldictionary.net/exonerated/.
I am not 100% sure how you would like me to do this but I just wanted to add in that I used Google for basic statistical information, numbers and percentages for convictions in the year, how many may have been killed within their convictions, etc.
Ramsey, Robert J., and James Frank. “Wrongful Conviction: Perceptions of Criminal Justice Professionals regarding the Frequency of Wrongful Conviction and the Extent of System Errors.” Crime and Delinquency, vol. 53, no. 3, 2007, pp. 436-470. ProQuest, https://eu1.proxy.openathens.net/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/wrongful-conviction/docview/1928270826/se-2?accountid=13108, doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0011128706286554.
Miclette, Mark. “The Execution of Larry Griffin and What It Meant to Others.” Jail and Inmate Search Blog, www.jailexchange.com/jail_and_inmate_search_blog/life-after-prison-reentry/the-execution-of-larry-griffin-and-what-it-meant-to-others/.
“Executed But Possibly Innocent.” Death Penalty Information Center, deathpenaltyinfo.org/policy-issues/innocence/executed-but-possibly-innocent.
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