Common Causes of Wrongful Convictions

wrongful conviction, appeals, Illinois criminal defense attorneyThe criminal justice system in the United States is based on the ideals that only those proven to be guilty beyond reasonable doubt should be convicted of crime. In practice, however, the system is far from perfect, and every year, hundreds if not thousands of individuals are found guilty of crimes they did not commit. With the proliferation of DNA-based exonerations, the issue has been brought to the forefront in recent years, as some 2000 convictions have been overturned in the last several decades. Still, one wrongful conviction is too many, and if you or a loved one has suffered legal consequences for a crime you did not commit, a qualified lawyer may be able to help.

Earlier this year, a Washington, D.C., Superior Court ordered to the District of Columbia to pay more than $9 million in damages to man whose life had been ruined by a wrongful conviction. The man had spent more than 22 years behind bars for a rape and robbery that he did not commit, as proven by subsequent DNA evidence. The question is, though: how do these things happen? How does an innocent person get convicted of something he or she did not do?

Organizations from around the country, including the Innocence Project and Northwestern University’s Bluhm Legal Clinic Center on Wrongful Convictions based here in Chicago, have put together some of the most common causes of false convictions. While some may be understandable to a degree, others are downright disheartening and may represent criminal activity on their own.

Wrongful convictions are often the result of some combination of:

  • Erroneous eyewitness testimony: Despite good intentions, eyewitnesses may misidentify a perpetrator or provide unintentionally false information;
  • Coerced or false confessions: Incriminating statements, full confessions, or guilty pleas are not always reliable. They are frequently obtained under questionable circumstances in which a defendant is all but forced to confess;
  • Government or law enforcement misconduct: Certain cases may need to be closed quickly to benefit a particular official or to satisfy public outcry. This sometimes leads to political pressure and prosecutorial shortcuts;
  • Bad science: Forensic tests with unreliable results, or information presented in such a way that a judge or jury is unsure of what is being posited can intentionally confuse the issue. Worse, as was recently exposed at the federal level, some analysts knowingly offer flawed testimony and results to benefit prosecution.
  • Perjury by informants and snitches: Those with incentive to testify against the defendant will sometimes have little interest in the truth. Instead, they are more interested in protecting themselves, often involving deals undisclosed to the jury; and
  • Inadequate legal defense: Due to lack of financial interest or other concerns, a defendant’s attorney may forego any type of investigation or a real effort at mounting a defense. This can be particularly difficult to prove if the case never made it to trial.

If you have been the victim of a wrongful conviction, it is not too late to do something about it. Contact an experienced criminal defense attorney in Chicago today to schedule a free consultation. At the Law Offices of Hal M. Garfinkel LLC, Chicago Criminal Defense Attorney, we understand the impact a false conviction can have on your life and are prepared to help you seek a better future.

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