“We fail ourselves if the wrong person is in jail. Police, prosecutors and judges are society’s agents: what they do in our name, rightly or wrongly, measures us as a people. One wrongful conviction would be too many if you were the one: imagine for a moment that it’s you locked behind bars, innocent” (Rowlings, n.d., as cited in Innocence Canada, 2017).
The prevalence of wrongful convictions within America has highlighted the imperative need for a reassessment of the American justice system. In 2018 alone, the “number of years lost to prison by defendants exonerated for crimes they did not commit” was 1,639 years, which is “an average of 10.9 years lost per exoneree” (The National Registry of Exonerations, 2019). These statistics emphasise the systemic issues that underpin these wrongful convictions, and the amount of innocent individual’s that are unfairly imprisoned.
To be able to change the systems that lead to the wrongful conviction of individuals, we need to identify why it occurs. A study conducted by the Innocence Project has identified that the main causes of these convictions are the result of:
- Eyewitness misidentification
- Unvalidated/improper forensics
- False confessions/admissions
The Innocence Project is an organisation that “exonerates the wrongly convicted through DNA testing and reforms the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice” (The Innocence Project, 2019). The organisation has a team of respected and educated individuals within the legal field, that have contributed to the exoneration of 365 people within the United States. Through organisations like the Innocence Project, experts within the legal field are making significant change in exonerating victims and campaigning for the reassessment of the United States’ justice system.
The issue of racism is also evident within the wrongful conviction of individual’s within the American justice system. A study into the correlation between race and wrongful convictions found that “47% of 1,900 exonerations listed in the National Registry of Exonerations (as of October 2016)” were African American (Gross, S., Possley, M. and Stephens, K., 2017). The large proportion of African American’s that are wrongly convicted also emphasises the crucial need to re-examine the role that race plays within the conviction of individuals.
The most alarming aspect of individuals being wrongfully convicted is those that are put on death row. A study conducted by “a team of legal experts and statisticians from Michigan and Pennsylvania” (Pilkington, E 2014) has revealed that at least 4.1% of individuals with the death penalty in America were falsely convicted. The risk of individuals being put to death for a crime that they didn’t commit is an disturbing truth that wrongly convicted American’s face.
The prevalence of wrongful convictions within America highlights its flawed justice system and the fundamental need for it to be reassessed. The fact that a percentage of death row inmates have been wrongfully convicted reiterates the need for systemic changes, as innocent people are being killed each year. The causes that lead to the wrongful conviction of inmates and the role that race can play in a defendants imprisonment, also need to be evaluated. Living within a democratic society, it is up to us as citizens to push for this change, and urge for the reassessment of justice systems around the world.
- Gross, S., Possley, M. and Stephens, K. (2017). RACE AND WRONGFUL CONVICTIONS IN THE UNITED STATES. National Registry of Exonerations. [online] Available at: http://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/Documents/Race_and_Wrongful_Convictions.pdf [Accessed 22 Apr. 2019].
- Innocence Project. (2019). Contributing Causes of Wrongful Conviction. [online] Available at: https://www.innocenceproject.org/causes-wrongful-conviction./ [Accessed 24 Apr. 2019].
- Pilkington, E. (2019). US death row study: 4% of defendants sentenced to die are innocent. [online] The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/apr/28/death-penalty-study-4-percent-defendants-innocent [Accessed 24 Apr. 2019].
- The National Registry of Exonerations. (2019). Exonerations in 2018. [online] Available at: https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/Documents/Exonerations%20in%202018.pdf [Accessed 24 Apr. 2019].
- com. (2017). Quotations 2017 – Wrongful Conviction Day. [online] Available at: http://wrongfulconvictionday.com/what-people-are-saying/ [Accessed 24 Apr. 2019].