Even with a lawyer, it is possible to be convicted of a crime that you did not commit. A mistake in the process can send an innocent victim to prison for years. Between modern surveillance and DNA evidence, how can a person be wrongfully committed in 2018? Here are the top six causes of wrongful convictions today.
1. Eyewitness misidentification
Prosecutors depend heavily on eyewitness identification. However, misidentified suspects are the most common cause of wrongful convictions in the U.S. Occasionally a witness will make a purposeful false identification, but more commonly than not, misidentification is a mistake. Memories are flawed and police may use misleading lineups. Even when evidence contradicts a crime, witnesses will often identify lineup participants as guilty.
2. Government official misconduct
Less common than eyewitness misidentification, government officials sometimes push for a conviction when desperately searching for a guilty party. Officials may take measures to guarantee a conviction, even when faced with little-to-no evidence for their case.
3. False confessions
Innocent people often say incriminating things while being questioned, ultimately leading to conviction. Defendants confess to crimes they did not commit, even pleading guilty. Innocent defendants are often pressured into making confessions with the prospect that pleading guilty will result in a less severe penalty than if they fight charges. There are many other reasons why people make false confessions.
4. Untested or unproven "junk science"
"Junk science" is a term used to describe untested or unproven forensic testing methods. This unreliable information is often presented in testimony by forensic analysts, making a defendant appear guilty. This can occur due to a lack of research, or even misconduct on the part of the analyst.
5. Informants with incentives
A testimony can sway an entire case against a defendant. Some informants are given incentives to testify against a defendant in payment or favors. The jury never knows of these incentives.
6. Negligence, errors or misconduct by the lawyer
A defendant relies on their lawyer to give them important information and guide them in decision-making. However, a lawyer may fail to call witnesses, investigate fully or prepare for court, leaving their client vulnerable. On the other hand, prosecutor misconduct or errors can also influence a case.
A wrongful criminal conviction can lead to ruined finances and lost freedom. If someone is wrongfully convicted, they have the right to fight back. Convicted people in Oregon can seek post-conviction relief with the help of an attorney experienced in criminal appeals.