By: Bryan Shapiro
The future of those convicted of a crime is one of added pressure and constraints from society. With restrictions on the right to vote, to the right to defend yourself with a firearm, and even where to live, those convicted of crime face hardship at every corner as they are reentering society. While the state-created hurdles convicted felons must overcome is a moral crime in itself, a greater crime is that some people must endure this assault on their civil rights despite being wrongfully convicted. Those who are wrongfully convicted face the same harsh reality as those who are guilty with no moral blameworthiness.
As it stands, wrongful convictions disproportionately impact minority groups. As the world has witnessed a social revolution centered around racial equity this past summer, solving the injustice of wrongful convictions is ripe for evaluation and reconsideration. Wrongful convictions can happen in many ways, but the most common causes include eyewitness misidentification, outdated science, false confessions, governmental misconduct, informants, and poor legal services. While bad actors are the problem most commonly associated with wrongful convictions, a larger problem is when a wrongful conviction occurs with no bad actors. Those who unintentionally contribute to the system of wrongful convictions are the foundation that keeps the system afloat. By focusing on the bad actors, such as those who hide exonerating evidence, it can be easy to assume that wrongful convictions can be cured with personnel and procedural reforms. However, a deeper dive into the roots of wrongful convictions reveals unintentional wrongful convictions created by poor science, and a mistake can lead to not only poor outcomes but confidence in those poor outcomes. DNA testing improvements brought the reality that many people were wrongfully convicted based on faulty evidence testing and procedures. The procedures that led to these false convictions were long held as the bedrock of criminal justice evidence.
While the exoneration of those wrongfully convicted is a great step forward, as a society, we must not only look to correct the injustice of the past but also look to the current trends of evidence and see where we can improve. A critical look at the current standards of science that are widely accepted for evidentiary purposes should be met with reasonable resistance to ensure we do not continue to perpetuate the system of wrongful convictions. If we can pause before blindly accepting the science of the day, we might be able to look at cases rationally and holistically to ensure that we are confident we can uphold true justice and not simply confident we can uphold a conviction. As is the nature of blog posts, there is not enough room to provide a solution, just a warning of the woes of relying heavily on the day’s science as it may change tomorrow. There are many organizations, such as the innocence project, that look to end wrongful convictions. Hopefully, if the work is done now to stop wrongful convictions, future generations will not have to deal with this moral atrocity.