In recent years, the number of offenders being unfairly and unjustly convicted by the court systems of the United States has been getting much attention. Since 2012, the number of exonerations that has been listed in the National Registry of Exonerations (2012) has surpassed 1,600 cases. Many of these convictions have been due to police or prosecutor misconduct such as planting evidence, withholding evidence, or lying about the facts of a case or progression of events. Eyewitness misidentification is another serious problem that can put a suspect at the focal point of an investigation to the exclusion of other possible suspects, leading investigators to a presumption of guilt based on said identification. Unfortunately, this misconduct is indicative of a growing problem within both the criminal justice and the legal systems whereby many innocent citizens across the country are being wrongfully accused and convicted of crimes which they did not do. It is an unfortunate consequence that the presumption of guilt, rather than innocence, leads down this path. The fallout from such convictions has left the nation reeling, both in frustration and anger, of the very systems which had been put in place to protect citizens against such injustices.
Article 1 Review
The first article, An Epidemic of Prosecutor Misconduct, discusses how prosecutorial misconduct has become even more rampant than ever before. Many prosecutors will not prosecute a case unless it will lead to a conviction, and this will often lead to unethical actions on their part such as withholding the release of exculpatory evidence, making false statements to the jury, destroying evidence, overstating the strength of the evidence (i.e. a ‘preponderance of evidence’), and many other types of misconduct just to get a conviction. The National Registry of Exonerations (2012) has concluded that an astounding 43% of wrongful convictions can be attributed to prosecutor misconduct (Center for Prosecutor Integrity, 2013, p. 4).
In the criminal justice system of today, the authors purport that the prosecutor has become one of the most formidable dramatis personae among all court officials. 90% of all criminal cases heard in courts are concluded by plea bargains that have been negotiated by prosecutors. It is the prosecutor’s determination of whom to arrest, what the sentencing recommendations should be, what crime to charge the defendant with and he or she even advises on the terms of the plea bargain (Center for Prosecutor Integrity, 2013, p.1).
According to the article, An Epidemic of Prosecutor Misconduct (2013), thousands of American citizens are victimized each year by prosecutors who withhold evidence, overcharge, or otherwise engage in acts of misconduct, just to get a conviction. Then, when these people seek reparation after the fact, they are met with delays, denials, and animosity.
Article 2 Review
In the second article, the State of the State Address, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo encouraged lawmakers to create a system to make identification procedures by eyewitnesses more authoritative and supported the use of videotape when questioning suspects. These actions were in response to the growing concern of wrongful convictions within the criminal justice system. According to Cuomo (2013), it is mistaken identification by eyewitnesses that often times leads to wrongful convictions (pg. 104). It is by instituting these measures during questioning that the rights of both law enforcement officials and suspects would be protected and the problem of wrongful convictions might be mitigated.
Article 3 Review
In the third article, Fighting CPS (2011), the author delves into another aspect of the criminal justice system and its inadequacies and ultimate misconduct. Frontiera (2011) states that Child Protective Services (CPS) can, and many times, does wrongfully remove children from their homes, ultimately causing extreme trauma and duress to both the child(ren) and their family.
The book then goes on to document various cases and the actions taken by CPS during said cases. Admittedly, many times these actions, are justified and children are saved from abusive homes. The problem comes in when there is no proper investigation done by law enforcement. CPS simply assumes that innocent families are guilty of child abuse or neglect, decides to step in and take the child(ren) out of the home. The burden is then on the side of the parents to prove that they are not guilty of abuse, which sometimes takes years to prove (Fortiera, 2011).
The ramifications for the family, in legal costs and stress as well as the mental trauma of having a family ripped apart can be overwhelming. Frontiera (2011) lays out some recommendations that can be taken to improve the "system", such as recording any and all conversations with a CPS worker, not allowing them to interview children, pay attention to details, as well as others.
Article 4 Review
The case of Michael Morton brings to light just how common misconduct, fraud and/or negligence by prosecutors is in cases involving DNA evidence. Mr. Morton was convicted of his wife’s murder by the prosecutors in the case because, they theorized, she did not have sex with him on his birthday (Innocence Project, n.d.).
It wasn't until almost 25 years later, in December 2011, that Morton was finally exonerated of the crime. Certain DNA evidence and testimony from his son, who had been in the room at the time of the murder, and others in the community, had originally been suppressed and never brought to light. The prosecutor in the case did not present any physical evidence or call any witnesses to testify, but simply theorized that Michael Morton had killed his wife for not having sex with him. Subsequently, Michael Morton was convicted of the murder of his wife and sentenced to life in prison (Innocence Project, n.d.).
It wasn't until the group, The Innocence Project, stepped in and was given permission to perform further DNA testing on the evidence in 2005 and again in 2011, that Morton was proven to have been falsely accused and was released on October 4, 2011. The DNA profile that had been revealed from the new tests named a convicted felon as the perpetrator (Innocence Project, n.d.).
Article 5 Review
During his research, Samual G. Gross, a University of Michigan Law Professor, concluded that since the 1980s, there have been upwards of 850 exonerations of inmates who were wrongfully convicted - 282 of which were exonerated by DNA evidence alone (John T. Floyd Law Firm, 2015). Based on the research done by Beth Schwartzapfel and Hannah Levintova for their piece titled "How Many Innocent People Are In Prison", it was hypothesized that about 20,000 or one percent of inmates in the United States prison population were wrongfully convicted.
Some of these exonerations come by way of district attorneys who, when reviewing the facts of certain cases, note that some of the circumstances in the initial investigations simply don't look right, call for a retrial of the case using evidence that was not given in the first trial (John T. Floyd Law Firm, p. 6).
There are also the cases when the prosecution has wrongfully convicted a person and does not want that information to become public, as in the case of Hank Skinner, who had been sentenced to death for the brutal murder of his girlfriend. Skinner tried for years to get the DNA testing done of the evidence in the case, but DA Lynn Switzer would never allow it. It was surmised that Switzer didn't allow the testing to be done so that the news of another Texas inmate had also been wrongfully convicted and given the death penalty would not get out (John T. Floyd Law Firm, 2015).
Center for Prosecutor Integrity. (2013). An epidemic of prosecutor misconduct. Retrieved from http://www.prosecutorintegrity.org/wp-content/uploads/EpidemicofProsecutorMisconduct.pdf
Cuomo, Andrew M. (January 09, 2013). NY rising. 2013 State of the State. Retrieved from http://www.scribd.com/mobile/doc/119659923
Frontiera, Deborah K. (2011). Fighting CPS: Guilty Until Proven Innocent of Child Protective Services Charges. The ABC's Press.
Innocence Project. (n.d.) Evidence of fraud, negligence or misconduct by prosecutors or police is disturbingly not uncommon among the DNA exoneration cases. Government Misconduct. Retrieved from http://www.innocenceproject.org/causes-wrongful-conviction/government-misconduct#resources
John T. Floyd Law Firm. (2015). Wrongful conviction and prosecutorial misconduct. Retrieved from http://www.hg.org/article.asp?id=27301
University of Michigan Law School. (May 2012). National registry of exonerations. Retrieved from http://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/Documents/1600_Exonerations.pdf