It was a wrongful conviction case that got me started on this journey. My friend Maurice Carter, whom I came to call my brother, served 29 years for a crime he did not commit. Not a week goes by that we don’t encounter another claim of innocence.
October 2 is International Wrongful Conviction Day, and once again the general public will take a look at the title, grumble that they hope it never happens to them, perhaps mutter that all prisoners say they are innocent, and go about their daily tasks.
Well, I think it’s worth breaking down a few statistics to give this some meaning. Take a look at these numbers and see how this information hits you:
3-5% of all prisoners are innocent.
Which means that
We have more than 1,000 wrongly convicted inmates right here in
Which breaks down to
Approximately 40 in every state prison.
So we can conclude that
Possibly 80 or more innocent people reside in the two Muskegon prisons just 10 miles from our office!
In a country which claims its system of justice is superior to all others in the world, here are the leading causes of wrongful conviction:
- Eyewitness Misidentification.
- Junk Science.
- False Confessions.
- Government (Prosecutorial) Misconduct.
- Informants or Snitches.
- Bad Lawyering.
While preparing a podcast on the topic recently, I compiled a list of some wrongful conviction cases that have touched our office in the past 16 years. Surprise! The list included a police officer, a lawyer, a doctor, two teachers, two businessmen and a single mother. All in middle to upper income brackets, all white, and none with even a hint of a police record! May this dispel any thoughts that such a thing cannot happen to you. Or me.
Samuel Gross, a law professor at the University of Michigan, keeps official track of all those people in the United States whose wrongful convictions have been reversed.
I conclude with his conclusions:
“We can do better, of course — for misdemeanors, for death penalty cases and for everything in between — if we’re willing to foot the bill. It’ll cost money to achieve the quality of justice we claim to provide: to do more careful investigations, to take fewer quick guilty pleas and conduct more trials, and to make sure those trials are well done. But first we have to recognize that what we do now is not good enough.”
Amen and Amen!