Thursday, August 02, 2007

Wrongful vs Unlawful Convictions

Richard Moran, a professor of sociology and criminology at Mount Holyoke writes (subscription required) in the August 2, 2007 New York Times, "My recently completed study of the 124 exonerations of death row inmates in America from 1973 to 2007 indicated that 80, or about two-thirds, of their so-called wrongful convictions resulted not from good-faith mistakes or errors but from intentional, willful, malicious prosecutions by criminal justice personnel."

The issue recently made headlines when the FBI admitted framing four men in the murder of gangster Edward Deegan. The four innocent men were convicted over 30 years ago. Only two survived to regain their freedom. The cost to taxpayers: $101.7 million dollars. The loss of freedom for those men and their families: beyond measure.

The significance of Moran's research, though, is that we often wrongly conclude that what he calls unlawful convictions are simply the results of honest errors rather than malice. Our failure to call such convictions unlawful shields the guilty parties from the consequences that could reduce such miscarriages of justice.


Troy said...

My fiancee was convicted of a sexual offense against a minor. This resulting from police asking questions of a 10 year old who called the police on him after grounding her from the phone. When the police arrived to the home the 10 year old was playing videos. The police lead questioning into did he touch you in an inappropriate way and so on. At the time he was intoxicated, which didn't help matters. When it came time for court, first of all he stayed in the county jail for 18 mos before going to court. He had five attorneys who all had a conflict of interest and the final attorney had a high profile murder case and advised it would be best to take a plea. This being the first felony he has ever had he was afraid and did as he was told. There wasn't any physical evidence taken just exculpatory from the girl, who told the mental health people that she just lied. But because someone on staff assumed that her aunt was enticing her to say that it was never reported in court. The charges were at first misdemeanor until the DA wanted more and tacked on other charges after the plea agreement. Not to mention all the psychological testing rated him as a non-violent person. It showed lack of education with alcohol being the only thing being his biggest vice. He is out on parole and has 7 mos to go and 6 years to go on probation. It is frustrating for my family and us to deal with the limitations from pictures on your wall to being able to babysit for your grandchildren to being there when your children need you the most. I feel as though I committed a crime and that is how I am treated. As a whole, isn't there something we can do?

William Newmiller said...

I'm sure this is a difficult time for you. Though I don't fully understand your situation, it appears that you hvae concerns in two areas. First, it appears that there was not full consideration given to all the evidence. One of the shortcomings of our system is that the authorities too often chose to ignore evidence that doesn't serve their desire to gain a conviction. That, of course, is wrong, because prosecutors are charged with seeking the truth above seeking a conviction. Second, the use of plea bargaining is often misused. For those who cannot make bail or those who cannot afford legal counsel, there is often tremendous pressure to take a plea, even when the accused knows that he or she is innocent. Even those who simply have a desire to "put the problem behind them" will often find the temptation of a quick plea bargain to be irresistable. Sometimes, as we believe happened in our case, a plea bargain is used as a bribe to gain testimony favorable to the prosectution. What can be done? We have to raise this issue in whatever forum we can. Write to elected leaders, talk with your friends and neighbors, write to newspapers, web sites, seek out organizations that can lobby on behalf of justice.