Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Wrongful Convictions

While the United States may have one of the better criminal justice systems in the world, it is nowhere near perfect. As the years pass, more and more cases are arising from the past that are proving to have originally convicted the wrong person. While, at the time, all of the evidence seemed to have pointed to one individual, it turns out completely innocent people are being imprisoned by mistake. 
In United States history, there are 289 DNA exonerations alone, and 222 of those have taken place since the year 2000 (1). This is not the number of exonerations overall, just the ones due to DNA evidence. One may think that this does not sound like a very large number, but this can be looked at as the number of guilty people that are roaming the streets. Innocent people that are being put behind bars for murder and rape are taking the place of the people that have actually committed these heinous crimes. From 1989 to 2010 alone, “85 people were wrongfully incarcerated, and the actual perpetrators were on a collective crime spree that included 14 murders, 11 sexual assaults, 10 kidnappings and at least 59 other felonies” (3). These mistakes that the criminal justice system is making are putting other peoples lives in danger, while taking away people’s lives when they don’t deserve to be punished. As many as 200,000 innocent people are imprisoned right now, and they are wrongfully convicted for many different reasons (2). Some of the leading causes for wrongful convictions include false eyewitness testimony, false confessions, the use of informants, and improper forensic science (1). It is very hard to believe that our criminal justice system imprisons innocent people because the techniques used to gain proper evidence are not used correctly.
Not only are wrongful convictions damaging to those that are imprisoned, but it costs everyday citizens money as well. The Center on Wrongful Convictions demonstrates that, “wrongful convictions of men and women for violent crimes in Illinois have cost taxpayers $214 million” (3). Why should the people of the U.S. have to pay for mistakes that our criminal justice system is making?
Luckily, some of the people that have been wrongfully convicted have been exonerated. One of these people includes Herman Atkins, who was sentenced to 47 years in prison for rape and robbery. After 12 years in prison, he was exonerated and able to regain his life back by going back to school for psychology (4) (VIDEO). Unfortunately, not all who are wrongfully convicted are that lucky. Some may never be able to be released due to lack of evidence pointing towards others. Others may have already finished their sentence, or been wrongfully put to death. There are at least 39 executions that have been carried out in the United States where the inmate’s guilt was being questioned (5). How can this possibly continue to happen?
While I may not have any suggestions at this time as to what to do to help solve this problem, I believe that the more this information is shared the more ideas will arise. Although there is no such thing as a perfect criminal justice system, there is no excuse for incarcerating innocent people and letting the guilty go free. The sooner this problem is resolved, the sooner those that deserve to be punished will be.



  1. I have heard far too often from parents and other adults, or seen movies or tv that complain how the "bad guys" get away. How the prison system is too soft. That the burden of proof on the state allows to many guilty criminals free. Articles like this and countless classes taken at ISU really drive home the impact of losing freedom. Take a moment to imagine the last 10 years of your life, your memories, and everything you know disappearing even though you were innocent. How inadequate legal representation or a jury that was swayed by the prosecution from a hot topic rather than facts could steal away something so precious. Hopefully as technology advances the judicial system makes fewer mistakes, but more importantly recognizes how terrible imprisoning an innocent man truly is. For those who are exonerated I find it hard to believe that money from the government will ever make up the amount of time some have spent paying for crimes that were not theirs.

  2. Mistakes are made all the time in any system and are dealt with accordingly. The main problem here is that in the criminal justice system the mistakes that are made include the outcomes of peoples lives. Locking innocent people up, and letting guilty people go free. It's bound to happen and is absolutely devastating to the families and people closely involved. However, to most of the public it really has no effect and that to me is a huge problem. I totally agree with you that the first step to solving this horrible problem is getting people to realize and see that it is going on. I myself don't really have any ideas on how to fix the problem, but if enough awareness is brought to the subject, ideas and thought will soon arise. I also totally agree that it is devastating to know that innocent people are being sent to prison for long periods of time and sometimes are sentenced to life in prison. The problem needs to be fixed, but like i said before in any system mistakes will arise.

  3. This article really makes me look at death penalty in a different light. I do not agree with putting people to death as a punishment and this is partially the reason why. DNA can purposely and accidentally be tampered with (Henery James)case to make innocent people become guilty to the trier of fact. Wrongful conviction are also difficult because people who have witnessed the crime, may add things into their memories without even realizing they have. Making them taint the truth with unsure memory.
    With Herman Atkins its a good thing his case was exonerated and he was able to return to a rather rational way of living. Some who have been exonerated are not abe to adapt to the free world and headback, because its the only thing they know.

  4. I, too agree that problems and issues such as this will arise in our system, being that perfection is impossible. It is sad that innocent people get put away for years and years, become dehumanized and at times lose all their abilities to live in society once they are out. Someone mentioned above how our system picks and chooses when to be harsh and lenient, which really reminded me of the movie "Law Abiding Citizen" in the part where the judge was going to let the "criminal" free just by him talking her out of it. It is sad that true criminals are getting away with things so easily, and innocent people are so easily put away. How do we fix this? I do not think there is any way to fix it. Awareness may help, but only to an extent.

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  5. Wrongful convictions are a huge problem in the criminal justice system. The blog states that there were 289 cases in which DNA evidence overturned a ruling. I think one of the biggest problems in convicting people is eyewitness testimony. It is proven that people under stress have a hard time remembering things. I know from personal experience that when I was attacked by a person sitting two seats away from me in a casino I didn’t even remember the guy’s hair color. The blog also stated that 214 million dollars of tax payer’s money was being spent on people who were wrongfully convicted, that is a lot of money that could be put to better use. I have heard of many cases similar to the Herman Atkins case in which after years of serving prison sentences people were exonerated by DNA evidence. That is a tough thing to think about, losing twelve years of your life for a crime you didn’t commit. There is a movie Conviction with Hilary Swank that is based on a true story about a man who was exonerated by DNA evidence after serving years in prison for a crime he did not commit.

  6. The staggering stat that gets me is that 200,000 people are wrongfully in prison right now. And maybe that number is so high because of the huge push from government on crime control. Also, someone should not be declared guilty just from an eye witness, a DNA test should be included. At least for rape and crimes that you can obtain DNA. But thanks for posting this i was unaware on how bad the issue is.

  7. I couldn't believe the stats. That would honestly be one of my worst nightmares would be to convict someone of something later to find out they weren't guilty. How much time of that persons life did YOU waste by giving him this fate...

    This topic is very interesting, something I have always thought was interesting. Thanks for writing about it!

  8. I think that this is a really interesting topic that is also extremely important. One of the main problems, like you said, is that there isn't enough of a focus on it in the real world. Unless the criminal justice system is 100% sure of an offender's guilt, they should not be incarcerated. I think that one of the main problems with this is that once somebody is incarcerated, they have an extremely difficult time finding a job and rebuilding family and community ties after they are released. Forcing someone to go through this is not justified if they are not the one who actually committed the crime. I am also pretty sure that once someone is exonerated, they are just let go, with no compensation or anything for the time that they were in prison and were unable to keep the job that they had before being wrongfully convicted.

  9. I find this particular article to be sad. I am all about punishing people that have made horrible decisions, but I cant believe that people are being punished for crimes they haven’t committed. Is the reason that so many people are being incarcerated due to the fact that investigators etc are jumping into conviction to soon? DNA testing should be one of the best and most important tools in convicting a murder case and rape case. I don’t understand how DNA is coming back to people who are actually innocent. I find it scary that people who commit these terrible crimes are still roaming the streets. I also finding it very sad that the people who are wrongfully convicted have more than likely lost their families, jobs, and most importantly their freedom.

  10. I am excited to see the development in this problem in our lifetime. As DNA evidence and other technologies advance it will assure more rightful convictions. This will be one of the milestones in the criminal justice field in our life time that will change the field forever.