How Wrongful Convictions Happen

man in dark prison

Although the criminal justice system in the United States is fair compared to other countries across the world, wrongful convictions still happen more often than they should. Each case is unique, but the reasons wrongful incarcerations happen can be placed into just a few categories.

It’s estimated that between 4-6% of the people in the United States prison system are actually innocent, which means that at least 1 out of every 20 criminal cases are a result of a wrongful conviction. How exactly does this happen in a fair and just judicial system? 

1. Inadequate Defense

Many times, suspects are unable to afford proper representation and end up with insufficient legal representation to help them get exonerated of the crimes they didn’t commit. When they can’t afford representation, they are appointed legal counsel by the courts. 

This doesn’t mean the lawyers aren’t qualified, but rather they are so overworked by the amount of cases that it becomes impossible to do a proper investigation. Criminal cases demand time and diligence, and when the lawyers are stretched too thin, suspects receive the bare minimum.  

2. Eyewitness Misinterpretation or Falsification

Unfortunately, eyewitness misinterpretation is the leading cause of wrongful convictions. The majority of the time, it’s an honest mistake on the part of the witness. Sometimes, people believe they have the right person, but mistakes happen to the detriment of the innocent.

Errors can occur because people are caught at the wrong place at the wrong time, or because someone stands out more than others in a lineup. Other times law enforcement pressures the witness to positively identify a suspect, even if the witness is completely unsure. 

3. False Confessions During Interrogations

During interrogations, law enforcement often push a suspect to confess rather than investigating the crime. They tell the suspect that they have enough evidence for a conviction and if they confess the sentence won’t be so harsh. 

Other times, mentally disabled people and juveniles confess to crimes they didn’t commit because they’re either confused or scared. False confessions can be avoided if crimes are more thoroughly investigated and law enforcement is honest about evidence.

4. Incorrect Forensics and Evidence

Incorrect assumptions about what appears to be solid evidence can lead to wrongful convictions, especially if experts agree with the flawed evidence. Forensic experts tend to be believed by the courts when they give their opinions on evidence, even if they’re completely wrong.

Expert testimony is treated as a source of accurate and objective information in cases, and their techniques, although oftentimes not proven or without error, are taken as fact to convict even the innocent. Validated and trusted research must be conducted to avoid wrongful convictions.

5. Official Misconduct

As mentioned, police often force confessions, but that’s not all that can happen to get someone wrongfully convicted. Law enforcement may deliberately or unintentionally provide only the information that supports a conviction and fail to provide any evidence that is conflicting.

Prosecutors don’t always have the full story or simply miss significant information that could help a suspect prove their innocence, or at the very least cast a shadow of doubt. Some tactics are used to deliberately secure a conviction. 

If you think you or a loved one is at risk of a wrongful conviction, it’s important to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney such as the Moorhead Law Group as soon as possible. Your future and freedom are at stake, and the sooner you have legal representation, the better chance you have of beating the charges against you.

Paul Guerdo

Paul Guerdo