The criminal justice system is not immune from wrongful convictions. A recent report revealed that official misconduct by law enforcement, prosecutors and others played a large role in these convictions and illustrates the need for an effective criminal defense.
The National Registry of Exonerations prepared the report which contained an examination of over 2,400 cases from across the country. It measured the role of government misconduct in wrongful convictions and how this specially impacts African Americans.
According to the report, 54 percent of official misconduct involved corruption or negligence by police prosecutors, laboratory workers or other government employees. Many defendants who were wrongfully convicted, including those convicted of low-level crimes, did not have necessary resources or legal assistance. The report’s authors also said that their data may be a substantial undercount of the actual number of wrongful convictions caused by official misconduct.
Most causes of official misconduct is systemic, according to the report. These include practices that permit or even encourage bad behavior, insufficient resources for training, supervising, and conducting high-quality investigations and prosecutions and ineffective leadership by police commanders, lab directors and senior prosecutors.
The researchers determined that the official misconduct fell within five categories:
- Witness tampering took place in approximately 17 percent of exonerations.
- Misconduct in interrogation was involved in 57 percent of exonerations and false confessions were involved in approximately seven percent of cases.
- Approximately 10 percent of cases involved fabricating evidence. Police officers or analysts lied about forensic evidence in three percent of exonerated convictions.
- In four percent of cases, police planted drugs or weapons on innocent suspects or falsely claimed that suspects assaulted them.
- Police fabricated confessions where defendants did not confess in about two percent of exonerations.
Concealment of exonerating evidence, evidence that clears a defendant of guilt, played a role in 44 percent of exonerations even though prosecutors were sometimes unaware of that evidence. During trials, misconduct was involved with approximately 23 percent of exonerations. This included perjury by law enforcement officers at 13 percent and prosecutorial misconduct at 14 percent.
Generally, exonerations for African American defendants involved a slightly higher rate of misconduct at 57 percent compared to white defendants at 52 percent. But these disparities were greater for murder cases, 78 to 64 percent, murder cases with death sentences, 87 to 68 percent and drug crimes, 47 to 22 percent.
An attorney can help assure that individuals’ rights are protected against misconduct. They can also help bring this information out in prosecutions.