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.