Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Guest Shot: Why Wrongful Convictions Must Decrease

Why Wrongful Convictions Must Decrease
by Adrienne Carlson

It’s worse when an innocent person is convicted than when a guilty one is let free, as any victim of a wrongful conviction will tell you. When you know in your heart that you’re innocent, when the system has worked against you simply because you were unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, you feel a burning sense of anger and helplessness at the criminal justice system that ruined your life. Wrongful convictions are now being overthrown with the surfacing of new evidence, mainly where DNA is available and can clear innocent people of crimes they had been convicted for when forensic science was not as developed as it is now.

While the guilty must be punished, the innocent must not be convicted, and the number of wrongful convictions must decrease because:

• They let the guilty party get away: This is the worst side effect of wrongful convictions – when an innocent person is convicted, it automatically implies that the one guilty of the crime goes scot-free. This allows him or her to continue to perpetrate crimes and bringing disaster to the lives of many others. When law enforcement officers let down their guard thinking that they have the guilty person, the one who actually committed the crime becomes emboldened to continue to hurt more innocent people.

• They ruin lives: The conviction of an innocent person is devastating for the victim and their family. Their entire lives are changed; for the victim, a life in jail is torture and sheer misery – he or she is not used to the rigors of the system and are broken mentally and physically by the time they complete their sentence or are released for good behavior or by new evidence which helps in their exoneration. As for the families, they are treated as outcasts by society and are shunned in their social and other circles. Their lives are never the same again, and even if the victim is exonerated, in the eyes of society, he or she is branded a criminal for life.

• They erode confidence in the legal system: When wrongful convictions happen, they decrease the confidence that the public has in the legal and criminal justice system. People start to believe that the system is deficient and full of faults; they are hesitant to report crimes and other offenses because they do not believe in the ability of the law enforcement officers to bring the right person to book.

• They dilute the authority of law enforcement officers: Most wrongful convictions happen because of cops and other law enforcement officers who do not do their job correctly and are misled by evidence that points to the wrong person. All they are interested in is convicting someone, and to them, it need not be the guilty party. Others are guilty of not investigating enough to find the real criminal. This dilutes their standing as authoritative figures in the public eye, and the entire community of law enforcement takes a beating.

This guest article was written by Adrienne Carlson, who regularly writes on the topic of forensic scientist schools. Adrienne welcomes your comments and questions at her email address:

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