According to the results of a conducted study on wrongful convictions, about 4.1% of people given the death sentence in the United States are later discovered to be not guilty of the offenses they allegedly committed. While there are no exact figures on all criminal cases with errors in convictions, reports show that the numbers are high for several reasons. An experienced criminal defense attorney is often the difference in many cases.
As early as the 16th century, people have been accused, convicted, executed, and then afterward found innocent of the serious crimes they were tried for. The list includes twenty people accused of witchcraft and executed by hanging in the Salem witch trials in 1692 as well as a man named Charles Hudspeth who was also sentenced to hanging for the alleged murder of George Watkins who was later found to be alive and well.
One of the most recent cases of exoneration from wrongful convictions involve that of a rogue lab chemist from a state-operated drug testing laboratory in Massachusetts, Annie Dookhan. She was found guilty of perjury and tampering of evidence for about 24,000 criminal convictions.
During her trial, she admitted the offenses she committed which include tampering of drug samples, falsification of test results and deliberately misleading case investigators. These practices were done in the nine years she was employed by the drug laboratory she was working for.
What Factors Lead to Wrongful Convictions?
Weak Legal Defense
Proving the innocence of a defendant largely depends on how a defense team collects the pieces of evidence to show the accused is not guilty of the crime or crimes in question. A reliable and effective criminal defense attorney has the skills and knowledge to ask the right questions and come up with a strong legal defense for his or her client.
Failure to present the case properly and insufficient legal defense can get a guilty verdict even if the truth is exactly the opposite.
As in the case of the Dookhan who admitted and served prison time for meddling with forensics, thousands of people were convicted wrongly and suffered agonizing years in incarceration for crimes they did not take part of.
There was also the case of FBI agent Matthew Lowry who was able to steal drug evidence from the FBI lab which he took for personal use and consequently compromised more than 150 cases and sent drug offenders to serve prison time.
This is another factor that contributes to the staggering increase in wrongful convictions. Eye witnesses are vital to the solving of criminal cases such as rape, murder and robbery. While there are credible witnesses, there are those who also fail to identify the right suspect and end up pointing out the wrong person.
It is not unusual for some victims to falsely accuse people of committing crimes or violations without really intending to. There was a case of a rape victim, Ann Meng who identified Julius Earl Ruffin as her assailant. After twenty years, DNA evidence exonerated the accused.
If you or a member of your family has been wrongfully accused of a civil or criminal offense, a reliable criminal defense attorney can represent you in court and help clear your name or that of a loved one. Do not let a wrongful conviction damage your reputation and that of the people you love. Talk to a criminal defense attorney who understands criminal law and the justice system.