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Posted on November 17, 2017 in Crime

What Are The Most Common False Conviction Cases?

The justice system in the United States seeks to maintain social harmony by punishing people who engage in the dangerous antisocial behavior. While the justice system often works as intended and includes many honest, upstanding individuals, errors, misrepresentations, falsehoods, and other unjust elements can and do make their way into the justice system. These problems can lead to false convictions, wrongful imprisonment, and even unjust executions.

Elements of False Conviction Cases

The National Registry of Exonerations tracks false convictions and exonerations in the U.S. and points to various factors that contribute to false convictions. The two most common causes of false convictions in the United States are official misconduct and perjury or false accusations. “Official misconduct” refers to any illegal, unethical, or unjustifiable action taken by a member of the justice system that leads to a false conviction. This could include arresting officers, jurors, witnesses, correctional officers, or any other individual involved in a criminal case.

The registry released a report in May of 2017 outlining the major contributing factors to false convictions:

  • Official misconduct led to 68.3% of homicide exonerations, or 571 out of 836 cases
  • Perjury and false accusations also led to 68.3% of homicide exonerations
  • Mistaken witness identification led to 24.3% of homicide exonerations
  • False or misleading forensic evidence led to 23.2% of homicide exonerations
  • False or fabricated confessions were responsible for 21.8% of homicide exonerations.
  • Inadequate legal representation at trial was a contributing factor to 26.1% of wrongful homicide convictions.

Misapplication of Forensic Science

Forensic science involves a wide array of scientific methods for determining the truth in criminal cases. When these methods lead to inaccurate results, innocent people may suffer false convictions or receive harsher penalties than the law dictates they deserve. The term “misapplication of forensic science” is a blanket term that can apply to any such situation. Some examples include:

  • Invalid or unreliable disciplines. Forensic science requires peer-reviewed methods that produce consistent results. If a method of forensic investigation cannot provide consistent and accurate results, it is an unreliable source of evidence.
  • Insufficient validation. Science requires testing and checking the results of those tests. The accuracy of any type of forensic discipline requires a large pool of controlled and well-designed studies to establish validity.
  • Misleading testimony. Forensic evidence and the explanations of such evidence can sometimes unduly sway a jury in a criminal case. Any forensic discipline used in a criminal case should have clearly defined elements that prove the method is a valid source of evidence and accurately conveys the defendant’s link to the charges in question.
  • Human error. Forensic scientists are still human and liable to make mistakes. A botched lab examination or a compromised piece of evidence can lead to an inaccurate result.
  • Dishonest or unethical practices by forensic professionals. In the past, some forensic scientists have purposely omitted to exonerate evidence, reported false or fabricated findings, or fudged the results of their tests.

It is an unfortunate reality that some forensic scientists and other figures in the justice system engage in unethical or illegal actions that lead to false convictions. However, the justice system allows convicted criminals to appeal their cases, and, with sufficient evidence and an experienced criminal defense attorney, they can sometimes secure exonerations for false convictions.