A miscarriage of justice primarily is the conviction and punishment of a person for a crime they did not commit. The term can also apply to errors in the other direction—”errors of impunity” and to civil cases. Most criminal justice systems have some means to overturn, or “quash”, a wrongful conviction, but this is often difficult to achieve. The most serious instances occur when a wrongful conviction is not overturned for several years, or until after the innocent person has been executed or died in jail.
“Miscarriage of justice” is sometimes synonymous with wrongful conviction, referring to a conviction reached in an unfair or disputed trial. Wrongful convictions are frequently cited by death penalty opponents as cause to eliminate death penalties to avoid executing innocent persons. In recent years, DNA evidence has been used to clear many people falsely convicted.
More than 2,000 people have been exonerated of serious crimes since 1989 in the United States, according to a report by college researchers who have established the first national registry of exonerations.
Researchers say their registry is the largest database of these types of cases and showcases some of the major issues with the criminal justice system, including that the leading causes of wrongful convictions are perjury, faulty witness identification and misconduct by prosecutors.
“No matter how tragic they are, even 2,000 exonerations over 23 years is a tiny number in a country with 2.3 million people in prisons and jails,” says a report released by the authors. “If that were the extent of the problem we would be encouraged by these numbers. But it’s not. These cases merely point to a much larger number of tragedies that we do not know about.”
The registry itself, which looks deeply into 873 specific cases of wrongful conviction, examined cases based on court documents as well as from groups that have long documented wrongful convictions. That group of wrongfully convicted spent more than 10,000 total years in prison, according to the report, with an average of 11 years each.
Many of the cases of the wrongfully accused were championed by the Innocence Project, a well-known group that works with many inmates to try to clear their names based on DNA evidence. The group has documented 289 post-conviction DNA exonerations. The earliest came in 1989, when DNA testing was being heavily used to re-examine cases for the first time.
The database is a fully searchable list of those who were convicted, broken down by their crimes, sentences and reason for exoneration. Some go into extensive detail about the long and treacherous roads to exoneration that prisoners have undergone.
The report also shows which states have exonerated the most people. It notes that Illinois and New York may top the list in part because of the large presence of two major wrongful conviction centers in each state. From 1989 to 2011, the following states had tallied the most exonerations:
- Illinois: 101
- New York: 88
- Texas: 84
- California: 79
- Michigan: 35
- Louisiana: 34
- Florida: 32
- Ohio: 28
- Massachusetts: 27
- Pennsylvania: 27
The Causes of Wrongful Conviction
As the pace of DNA exonerations has grown across the country in recent years, wrongful convictions have revealed disturbing fissures and trends in our criminal justice system. Together, these cases show us how the criminal justice system is broken – and how urgently it needs to be fixed.
We should learn from the system’s failures. In each case where DNA has proven innocence beyond doubt, an overlapping array of causes has emerged – from mistakes to misconduct to factors of race and class.
Those exonerated by DNA testing aren’t the only people who have been wrongfully convicted in recent decades. For every case that involves DNA, there are thousands that do not.
Only a fraction of criminal cases involve biological evidence that can be subjected to DNA testing, and even when such evidence exists, it is often lost or destroyed after a conviction. Since they don’t have access to a definitive test like DNA, many wrongfully convicted people have a slim chance of ever proving their innocence.
Here you will find further information about seven of the most common causes of wrongful convictions:
- Eyewitness Misidentification
- Unvalidated or Improper Forensic Science
- False Confessions / Admissions
- Government Misconduct
- Informants or Snitches
- Bad Lawyering
These factors are not the only causes of wrongful conviction. Each case is unique and many include a combination of the above issues. Review our case profiles to learn how the common causes of wrongful convictions have affected real cases and how these injustices could have been prevented.
West Palm Beach Criminal Defense Lawyer
If you are accused of a crime, your freedom, your family, your reputation, your immigration status, and your job may be at stake. The outcome you receive in the criminal justice system depends upon the experience and knowledge of the defense attorney you choose to represent you. When you retain the law firm of Andrew D. Stine, P.A., you do not simply retain a nationally recognized criminal defense lawyer.
Contact our firm to discuss your case in a confidential consultation.