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Top Ten Causes of Wrongful Conviction

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You Hired the Wrong Lawyer (Pleas with No Bargain)

There is no way of overstating the importance of having a competent lawyer to represent you if you are charged with a crime, whether you are innocent or guilty. Our criminal legal system is complex, biased, over­loaded, and geared toward pushing you into a plea bargain. Without a competent lawyer, it will run over you without tapping the brakes, and you may find yourself wrongfully convicted. Ineffective assistance of counsel is one of the leading causes of wrongful convictions. Chapter one of “You Might Go to Prison, Even Though You’re Innocent” explores how bad lawyering has led to wrongful convictions and how the system could be improved to decrease the number of these wrongful convictions.

You Live in the Country or the City

Wrongful convictions often occur in rural areas due to lack of resources, insufficient training, and lack of experience in investigating and litigating serious crimes.  On the other side of the coin, wrongful convictions often happen in cities due to over policing. Chapter two of “You Might Go to Prison, Even Though You’re Innocent” gives concrete examples and statistics that support the proposition that living in the country and the city increase your chances of being wrongfully convicted.   

Populated City
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Couples with Skateboards

You Are in a Relationship and Live with Someone Who Is Murdered

Due to the high incidence of murder victims being killed by their partners, police often immediately focus on the partners as suspects, particularly when they find the dead body and can be put on the crime scene.  Chapter three of “You Might Go to Prison, Even Though You’re Innocent” tells the tragic stories of wrongfully convicted people who not only lose people they love, but then face the horror of going to prison as murderers of their loved ones.

You (Kind of) Look like Other People in the World

One of the leading causes of wrongful convictions is bad identifications.  The simple reason is because judges and jurors consider identifications to be strong evidence, but in reality, due to the frailties of human memory and inadequate identification procedures, identifications are often inaccurate.  Chapter four of “You Might Go to Prison, Even Though You’re Innocent” tells the tragic tales of bad identifications leading to long-term prison sentences, and even death sentences, while guilty people remain at large. This chapter also details reforms that can improve the accuracy of identifications.

Therapy session

You Get Confused When You Are Tired and Hungry, and People Yell at You

Many people believe that innocent people never confess to crimes they did not commit, but that is simply not true.  Even in a modern age, where most interrogations do not involve violence, the psychology used as part of interrogation techniques, the ability of the interrogators to lie with impunity, and the length of interrogation sessions often lead to false confessions.  Chapter five of “You Might Go to Prison, Even Though You’re Innocent” explores the various interrogation techniques used by police around the world, illustrates their flaws, and tells the stories of the victims of these techniques.

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You Have or Care for a Sick Child

Misdiagnosed baby death cases are perhaps the most tragic wrongful conviction cases of them all. First, a child has died.  Second, a caretaker (often a parent) becomes a suspect in the death.  Third, families and the surrounding community of the caretaker often begin to believe the accusation.  Fourth, the caretaker spends every penny they have defending against the charge.  Fifth, the caretaker goes to prison as a baby killer—the lowest of the low in the prison hierarchy.   Chapter six of “You Might Go to Prison, Even Though You’re Innocent” explains the science behind misdiagnosis in baby death cases and tell the tragic stories of those who suffer the consequences. 

Examining a Child
Chemistry Class

You Got a Jury That Was Blinded by “Science”

Jurors rely on experts to give them scientific conclusions to use in their assessment of evidence and there have been incredible developments in forensic science over the past few decades.  The advancement of DNA technology is one example.  While we have learned so much more from these developments, they have also cast doubt on forensic science techniques from the past.  Chapter seven of “You Might Go to Prison, Even Though You’re Innocent” explains the problems with bullet analysis, bite mark evidence, microscopic hair analysis, fire science, fingerprinting, and other faulty forensic techniques that we now know have sent innocent people to prison.

Judge's Table

You Work with Children or Let Them in Your House

In the 1980’s, The McMartin Preschool case received worldwide attention when the McMartin family members, who worked at the preschool in Manhattan Beach, were accused of sexually abusing the children in their care. Interviewers used highly suggestive techniques when interviewing the children. The interviewers gave the children information about sexual acts that the children ultimately weaved into their own stories. The stories spiraled into bizarre tales of sodomy, bestiality, satanic rituals, witches, and orgies. The children claimed abuse occurred in underground tunnels and chambers, which excavation of the property proved did not exist. The trial lasted seven years, and at the time, was the most expensive in U.S. history. In the end, the allegations were proven to be false, and all the defendants were freed. Chapter eight of “You Might Go to Prison, Even Though You’re Innocent” explores the difficult topic of false child molestation charges and what can be done to improve the quality of investigation in those cases.   

Kids in Preschool
Witness In Courtroom

Someone Lies about You

There are complex reasons for wrongful convictions, but they also often occur simply based on lies.  Sometimes it’s a person trying to get out from under his or her own charges who is willing to throw someone else under a bus. Sometimes it’s a police officer covering up sloppy police work or using lies in a clumsy attempt to get to the truth. Sometimes it’s a corrupt and/or lazy forensic examiner fabricating results. Sometimes it’s an alleged victim or witness giving false testimony. Chapter nine of “You Might Go to Prison, Even Though You’re Innocent” looks at the various lies that have led innocent people to prison and reforms that should be made to lessen the incidence and impact of such lies.

Judge's Table

You Are Poor and/or a Person of Color

Every statistic on the subject shows that poverty and race deeply impact the criminal legal system and often lead to wrongful convictions.  Lack of financial resources mean it is more likely a case will not be investigated and litigated as thoroughly as when there are resources.  And, the criminal legal system is simply a microcosm of society, and thus when judges and jurors enter the halls of justice every day they bring all of the bias and fallibilities of human being with them.  Those biases and fallibilities result in both the race of defendants and the race of victims impacting the quality of the justice that is served.  Chapter ten of “You Might Go to Prison, Even Though You’re Innocent” explores the impact of poverty and race on the criminal legal system and reforms that could improve the system.

Multiracial Hands
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