How many people are wrongfully convicted of criminal offenses each year?
America prides itself on the fundamental principal that you are innocent until proven guilty. Our criminal justice system leads criminal defendants to believe that if they are innocent, the truth will set them free. Sadly, however, the advent of DNA and other technologies have revealed an alarming number of innocent people who were convicted of serious crimes only later to be exonerated. It is likely that hundreds of other innocent people remain sitting in prison due to the immense hurdles in successfully overturning a conviction. Our West Palm Beach criminal defense attorneys explore the statistics on wrongful convictions and the most common causes of wrongful convictions below.
Wrongful Conviction Statistics
DNA evidence has provided a new avenue to clear the name of some people wrongfully convicted of serious crimes. In cases in which DNA evidence was gathered, later testing holds the crucial potential to clear an innocent person’s name. DNA technology first reached the point that it could be used in criminal cases in the late 1980s. In 1989, the first DNA exoneration took place. The case involved a defendant who had already served 10 years of a potentially 50-year sentence for a rape that it was later found he did not commit.
Since that time, the Innocence Project has used DNA evidence to exonerate 362 people. Exonerations have been achieved in 37 states, which the average prisoner already serving 14 years of their sentence. In sum, the innocent prisoners had served 5,014 total years in prison for crimes they did not commit.
The harsh reality is that many more people are wrongly convicted, but no DNA evidence exists to exonerate them. DNA evidence is only present in a select few cases, and even then, to be usable, the evidence must be properly preserved. Many innocent defendants are stuck in prison hoping for miraculous new evidence to emerge that will clear their name. Often, this evidence never comes and years of their lives end up being spent in prison for a crime they did not commit.
Causes of Wrongful Convictions
Studies have shown that false eyewitness misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions. A wide variety of factors can influence a witness’ identification, including racial bias, lack of blind administration of photo arrays, and the failings of human memory. Other top causes of wrongful convictions include false confessions, snitch testimony, police or prosecutorial misconduct, or poor defense lawyering. Obtaining the assistance of an experienced criminal defense lawyer who will fully protect your legal rights is your best chance to avoid a wrongful conviction.