The second of October marks the fourth observance of International Wrongful Conviction Day. I contend that it should be declared a holiday in this country. Not a fun holiday like Christmas, New Year’s Day, Fourth of July or Thanksgiving Day. No, this would be a sad observance, like Memorial Day. Yes, there should be a nationwide effort calling attention to this dreadful infection in the body of what we call the judicial system.
Wrongful Conviction Day was organized to raise awareness of the causes and remedies of wrongful conviction and to recognize the tremendous personal, social, and emotional costs of wrongful conviction for innocent people and their families.
I'd like to call your attention to the Innocence Network, an affiliation of organizations dedicated to providing free legal and investigative services to individuals seeking to prove innocence of crimes for which they have been convicted, working to redress the causes of wrongful convictions, and supporting the exonerated after they are freed.
As you probably know, it was a wrongful conviction that got me into this business many years ago. As a result, HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS has always kept a strong focus on the topic. And for good reason.
4.1 percent of defendants who are sentenced to death in the United States are later shown to be innocent: 1 in 25, according to the Washington Post.
Time Magazine reports that, for the third year in a row the number of exonerations in the United States has hit a record high. A total of 166 wrongly convicted people whose convictions date as far back as 1964 were declared innocent in 2016. On average, there are now over three exonerations per week—more than double the rate in 2011!
There are no hard data re the number of wrongly convicted prisoners in our system, but estimates range between 5% and 15%. Here in Michigan, that means there are probably 2,000 innocent people in our state prison system, and possibly as many as 6,000!
Leading causes, as listed by the experts:
- Eyewitness Misidentification.
- Junk Science.
- False Confessions / Admissions.
- Prosecutorial Misconduct.
- Informants or Snitches.
- Bad Lawyering.
So take a moment today, not only to say a prayer for the victims of wrongful conviction and those working on their behalf, but also to support all efforts to reduce this problem.
After all, there’s no guarantee that the next victim won’t be you!