Wrongful Convictions – Issue for Law Enforcement Organizations


How can you know if someone was convicted for a crime they did not commit? Many people are innocent of the crimes they are convicted for, however, it is very hard to prove whether that is the case or not. That being said, there are steps being taken in order to lower the number of wrongful convictions. An example of people who can help towards that change are police officers, especially in regard to contemporary policing, these officers work towards obtaining a safer society by controlling crime and maintaining relationships with different members of that society. All that is needed is unity, because unity goes a long way in regard to safety.

There are many causes for wrongful convictions, this paper will outline the most common ones: false confessions, police misconduct, false forensic evidence, and eyewitness error. There are of course many other causes for wrongful convictions but then this would be an endless essay. Because those who are wrongfully convicted actually serve jail time, there are certain outcomes regarding their mental stability and sometimes their physical health as well. People that are incarcerated will never be the same if they do come out at some point in their lives, there will be consequences.

Causes for Wrongful Convictions

False confessions

Interrogations, whether it is to a witness or even the accused could lead to false confessions, or actually the method of interrogation that is used. There are two general types, and they are maximization and minimization (Meissner et al., 2005). Maximization is what is called the scare tactics, mainly intimidating the suspect, telling them that they are guilty, ignoring them when they say they are innocent, and fabricating incriminating evidence so there is a confession (Meissner et al., 2005). The problem with maximization is the fact that it uses intimidation and it refuses to acknowledge innocence, which means everyone being interrogated that way, will be seen as guilty right away. This in turn does not help if someone who is in fact innocent or knows someone is innocent gets scared and decides to tell the questioners what they want to hear. Another thing is if they are told that there is incriminating evidence, that is a motive for confessing, because they believe there will be repercussions regardless of what they say or not say. Minimization in turn is one that says the consequences will be less severe if you confess, there will be leniency, the suspect’s trust is trying to be gained during this kind of interrogation (Meissner et al., 2005). The issue with minimization is that because they are offered leniency, they will be scared of any outcome if they do not confess, they much rather have a less severe sentence if they are going to be convicted regardless.  

An example of false confessions is David Milgaard’s case, who was convicted of the sex slaying of a Saskatoon nurse in 1969 (Makin, 2015). His two travel companions, John and Wilson, were interrogated, and they gave a strong alibi, saying they were with Milgaard during the attack so there would be no way for him to have committed the crime. Police had decided that they lied in the original interrogation and questioned them again, this time they incriminated Milgaard and said that they even saw him stabbing the nurse (Makin, 2015).

Police Misconduct 

Police officers are seen as the gatekeepers in the criminal justice system, because of their contact with both victims and defendants, This then suggests that they have the means for a proper investigation (Lovegrove, 2016). They are human so there will be mistakes, the problem is knowing whether they are made by accident or purposely, they are supposed to work with integrity and honesty. Now Misconduct comes when the mistakes they make are illegal or intentional, such as discrimination, and obstructing justice (Lovegrove, 2016). Now for something to be intentional there would have to be planning involved, which means that they were perhaps thinking about messing up the investigation for a while. Because they are police officers, and they likely know what they are doing, it makes it that much harder to notice that there is even something off that could lead to a wrongful conviction. 

An example of Police misconduct is the case of Donald Marshall Jr., wrongfully convicted of murder. In this case the police dismissed important evidence for the case, there was witness intimidation and this then caused them to perjure themselves, and the police then admitted that they discriminated against Marshall because he was a First Nations guy (Butts, 2009).

False Forensic Evidence 

There are cases where DNA analysis has been improperly collected, contaminated, mislabelled results, and even analysts that falsify results (Griffiths, 2020, p. 325). When these things happen it is often hard to say that’s what happened, because it is by accident and the analysts are sure of their results, or if purposely they know how to cover their tracks because they are experts in the field.

Eyewitness error

Eyewitness testimony has been found to be unreliable and that it accounts to many wrongful convictions as it is the leading cause for it. There are many factors that hinder the ability for eyewitnesses to accurately describe an offender, those are but are not limited to, light conditions, weather conditions, age of eyewitness, how fast an offence occurred, etc (Griffiths, 2020. p. 315). If it is dark then it is hard to see what a person looks like from a distance, if it is raining at the time of the offence then it is also hard to see what a person looks like from a distance. Maybe an offence happened very quickly, then there is a possibility that you were not able to see anything relevant. 

Consequences of Being Wrongfully Convicted

Mental Stability

Those who are incarcerated suffer psychological stress, due to their confinement. It is especially hard for those who are wrongfully convicted because they are aware of their innocence and the fact that they are now victims of the Criminal Justice System (Meissner et al., 2005). That sense of victimization is not only there while they are incarcerated but it stays with them forever because it will not be something that they will ever forget. Some symptoms may be PTSD, anxiety, paranoia, and depression (Meissner et al., 2005).  

Bodily harm

Have in mind they will be incarcerated, so they will be treated like any other inmate, they may be attacked and some of those attacks may leave marks that when seen will act as a memory of everything that went wrong with them. That and the fact that they cannot control what they eat so there could be health issues.

Conclusion

So how can you know if someone is innocent? The answer is you do not know, unless you investigate properly and use the resources you have the right way. The people that are wrongfully convicted go through a lot of hardships and that in turn will affect them mentally and physically. Nothing is ever 100 percent reliable, so we have to be careful and handle things slowly to make sure we get the best outcome.

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