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When the Wrongfully Convicted Are Not Compensated

About the author:

Timothy Walton is a law school graduate and a freelance blogger with a knack for self-sufficiency. He also has three successful home business ideas under his belt. Currently, Timothy is working as a collaborative editor for Ben Crump Law Firm. In his free time, when he is not strolling outside his lake house in rural Georgia with his two Labs, Rex and Lucilla, he is either trying his hand at writing a novel or daydreaming about his next nomadic adventure.

When the Wrongfully Convicted Are Not Compensated

No system of law enforcement can ever be perfect. This is among the most important arguments against irreversible punishment, such as execution. According to Amnesty International, approximately 900 known exonerations were recognized by the National Registry of Exonerations, between 1989 and 2012. Of those, at least 100 had been sentenced to death row.

Most of these exonerations were the result of DNA evidence, which is almost completely infallible. That means, beyond any doubt, that our system does convict the innocent and at least occasionally executes them. Many factors can lead to a wrongful conviction, ruining the lives of innocent men and women.

Poor Eyewitness Testimony

Eyewitness testimony is well known to be unreliable in many if not most cases. Still, such testimony can be persuasive. When a witness is both convincing and incorrect, a false conviction is a likely result.

Bad Science

Many forms of forensic testing merely possess the appearance of scientific authority. Expert testimony is often accepted as fact by a judge, jury, and counsel when they lack the educational background to properly scrutinize such testimony.

False Confessions

Many innocent defendants make self-incriminating statements without intending to do so. Because police are on the side of the prosecutor in our adversarial system, they may interpret the words of a suspect as a confession and record it in a way that favors the outcome they desire.

Official Misconduct

In many cases, the goal of the police and prosecuting attorney is to obtain a conviction. Corrupt officials sometimes use false confessions, poor forensic evidence, and the testimony of paid witnesses. These dirty tricks make it easy to wrongfully convict a defendant. Misconduct accounts for 40% of all wrongful convictions.

Paid Testimony

Often, people with an incentive to testify against the defendant can be used to obtain damning testimony. People who have a relationship with the defendant can easily be threatened with prison time for not offering testimony that benefits the prosecution. Furthermore, rewards and punishments can be created for those from whom the prosecution wishes to obtain testimony against a defendant.

Poor Legal Representation

Defendants who choose to represent themselves are at risk of a wrongful conviction. Likewise, those who use a public defender may also be at risk as public defenders are often overworked and underpaid.

Moving the Wrong Way

Wrongful convictions are a growing problem. The costs of a wrongful conviction, even when overturned, are high. These costs come at the expense of society and especially those unfortunate souls who are wrongly convicted.

When there is no cost to the system for damaging a person’s life, stealing their time, and destroying their reputation, there is little incentive to fix the problem. Officers, attorneys, and judges can rest on the appearance of justifiability with no risk or cost should they be found to have acted erroneously.

The cost to the public is also not to be underestimated. Anyone living under a system of laws, knowing that they may be arrested and imprisoned regardless of guilt or innocence, lives a dismal and diminished life. Wrongful convictions without compensation erode public trust in the system, and without trust, we have tyranny.

Of course, the cost felt by the wrongfully convicted is by far the greatest. The illegitimate loss of freedom is a grievous injury. The loss of employability causes immeasurable harm. The cost can last for generations. The damage to one’s reputation, the loss of friends, the trust of family, and the difficulty of forming new trusting relationships can be devastating.

The wrongfully convicted must be fully compensated. Only complete, open exoneration and compensation can justify the continued existence of a flawed system. Unfortunately, without proper legal counsel acting in good faith, the chances of a wrongful conviction are high.