Reducing Wrongful Convictions

Reducing the causes of wrongful convictions

Wrongful convictions are a common occurrence within the court system.  Prosecutors rely on eyewitness identification to secure the case they have prepared against the defendant. The problem with depending so much on the testimony of an eyewitness is that there have been too many occasions where the eyewitness believes the person that is presented before them, whether in the form of photographic evidence, or while looking at a line up that the local police department has arranged, there can be the possibility of doubt that who they believe they saw commit the crime, may or may not be the person in the picture or standing before them. 

In order for the court system to reduce the amount of wrongful convictions that have been handed out, there needs to be more focus on the reliability of eyewitness identification, which is said to be the number one cause of a person being wrongfully accused of a crime. The criminal justice system relies on securing witnesses with the hopes of capturing the criminal who committed the crime. The witness very well could have seen what happened, but the prosecuting attorney needs to ensure that the witness can honestly and properly identify who did in fact commit the crime. 

Many states are creating offices that have the main focus of reviewing the cause and effects of wrongful convictions. These offices review the main identifiers that can accuse a person of being guilty of convicting a crime. After years of review, it was discovered that the majority of eyewitness identifications are incorrect, which results in having an innocent person placed in jail or prison. The other result is that the case can be stalled due to the police only focusing on the one suspect.

Once a person is being questioned by police, this is the time when the officer must be more diligent with their questioning of the witness and find other means to ensure that the victim of the crime or the witness of the crime have identified the correct person. A thorough review of any available video surveillance to verify the statement of the victim and or the witness. Other options that can help reduce the cause of wrongful conviction due to eyewitness error are:

Blind administration- police officers provide a line-up for the eyewitness to identify the offender, while acting as if they do not know who the suspect could be.

Line up composition- a line up is provided for the eyewitness to pick out the offender, but is filled with innocent people who look like the offender.

Instructions- the eyewitness is told by the police officer that the offender may not be in the line up.

Confidence Statements- after identifying the offender, the eyewitness is asked to provide a statement verifying how confident they are with who they selected out of the line up.

Recording- this provides proof that the line up was legally performed and that the rights of the offender were not violated.

The final suggestion to assist the court system with reducing the amount of wrongful convictions is to focus on the beginning of the crime; while the scene of the crime is being processed for evidence, any DNA evidence that is collected, should be tested against the suspect. DNA evidence is becoming a key component with freeing those who have already been convicted. The use of DNA has not been around for very long, but by law enforcement and the court system taking more time to verify that the suspect did in fact commit the crime, without totally relying on the testimony of the eyewitness, should assist with reducing the amount of wrongful convictions that have occurred over the years.