Even though we would like to believe that everyone in jail is there for a reason, the truth is that people are wrongfully convicted for crimes they did not commit far more often than most people realize.
In fact, according to data made available by The National Registry of Exonerations, there were 166 individuals exonerated in 2016 alone, including individuals originally convicted of murder, drug offenses, sex crimes, arson, robbery and other violent offenses. Even worse, this same data found that no crime actually occurred in 94 of the exonerations.
Given the prevalence of wrongful convictions, one may wonder why they occur so often. Well, a recent report by the National Registry of Exonerations titled Race and Wrongful Convictions in the United States, offers some insight. This report, which examined roughly 1,900 exonerations, discussed several common causes of wrongful convictions, including:
- Official misconduct: The report found that many individuals were wrongfully convicted, and later exonerated, following actions of official misconduct, including the concealment of evidence and witness tampering (e.g., misleading a witness at a lineup, threatening a witness and suborning perjury).
- Systemic police scandals: According to the report, more than 1,800 individuals have been cleared in "group exonerations" after being framed and convicted in multiple large-scale police scandals.
- Eyewitness misidentifications: Whether caused by implicit bias, official misconduct, explicit racism or simply a bad/unclear memory, misidentifications occur often.
While wrongful convictions will likely continue to occur, that doesn't mean we should stop trying to improve the justice system - not to mention rectify past mistakes.