William Blackstone was one of the pioneers of the system of jurisprudence we have in the United States today.
His “ratio” of 10:1 is one of our system’s core principles as stated in the maxim, “Better that 10 guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.”
Benjamin Franklin doubled down on Blackstone’s philosophy decades later. Franklin said, “It is better a hundred guilty persons should escape than one innocent person should suffer.”
However, leaders from predominantly socialist and communist countries thought that it was better to incarcerate the innocent than grant a guilty man freedom.
Neither approach is perfect. The competing philosophies wrestle with the notion that guilty people will evade punishment.
Because the U.S. developed our laws from English common law, we favor the approach of Blackstone and Franklin. However, untold scores of innocent people are wrongfully convicted each year in America.
Two questions follow from this cruel reality. Why do we continue to incarcerate the innocent? And what can you do if you know someone wrongfully convicted of a crime?
At the Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, we believe in our nation’s judicial system, however imperfect. We zealously represent our clients with the expectation that justice will be served.
We have tried well over 100 cases with tremendous results and will continue to ferociously fight for justice if one of our clients suffers a wrongful conviction. We will not give up on you.
Wrongfully Convicted Statistics
Organizations recently began keeping statistics on the impact wrongful convictions have on society and certain groups in particular.
The National Registry of Exonerations began keeping track of people freed after courts overturned their wrongful convictions in 1989.
In 2020 alone, 143 people won exonerations for crimes they were convicted of but did not commit. Updated DNA testing freed 19 of them.
Since 1989, 532 people have been freed from prison due to updated DNA testing, and 2,268 other innocent people were set free for other reasons.
That brings the total number of exonerations in the last three-plus decades to 2,932. In real-life terms, that accounts for 25,600 human years lost behind bars.
Wrongful convictions impact certain communities more than others. Out of the 2,932 exonerations, 1,439 people are Black, 362 are Hispanic, 1,035 are White, and 69 people are classified as “other” races.
Some types of crimes are more susceptible to wrongful convictions. The types of crimes break down as follows:
- All crimes—2,800;
- Drug Possession or Sale—392;
- Sexual Assault—343; and
- Child Sex Abuse—297.
Homicide cases get the most attention, even though every wrongly-convicted person deserves exoneration.
Why Do Wrongful Convictions Happen?
The National Institute of Justice breaks down wrongful convictions into two categories. They are factual innocence and a violation of the accused’s rights because of a procedural error.
Hopefully, pursuing post-conviction appeals and motions for a new trial expose and correct any procedural errors that arose during the trial.
Factual innocence is difficult to prove if there is no forensic evidence available. Thankfully, enhanced DNA testing has allowed wrongfully convicted individuals to go back and re-test evidence.
The Innocence Project found that 52% of the convictions they helped overturn involved bad forensic evidence.
Not every wrongful conviction resulted from DNA issues. For example, the FBI once used microscopic hair comparisons to identify suspects.
The procedure proved to be flawed after DNA exonerated two wrongfully convicted people who lost at trial because of flawed hair analysis. Fingerprint evidence can be misapplied as well.
However, some trial lawyers do not understand how DNA and fingerprint analysis work. If they lack this understanding, they cannot adequately represent their clients at trial if the case involves these procedures.
Inadequate representation can lead to a wrongful conviction because juries tend to believe scientific evidence without much scrutiny.
Therefore, at trial, it is critical to have a lawyer who knows how to effectively challenge scientific evidence.
Other causes of wrongful convictions include faulty eye-witness testimony, lying informants, false confessions, prosecutorial or official misconduct, and pleading guilty to crimes despite being innocent.
People sometimes confess and plead guilty to crimes they did not commit because they fear the uncertainty of a jury trial, and they hope to get a lighter sentence by taking a plea.
How Long Does It Take to Overturn a Conviction?
Overturning a conviction is difficult and time-consuming. Each case is unique, so the amount of time it takes to overturn a conviction varies widely. According to the Innocence Project, the average length of time someone serves behind bars before exoneration is 16 years, but there are cases where it has taken three decades or longer.
Real-Life Consequences for a Wrongful Conviction
Even if a wrongfully convicted person never spends a day in jail, they could suffer life-altering consequences such as:
- Deportation or exclusion from the United States if not a citizen;
- Having a criminal record;
- Having a felony conviction that cannot be expunged or dismissed;
- Difficulty finding employment;
- Losing your children;
- Facing enhanced penalties for future convictions;
- Experiencing financial difficulties; and
- Losing your driver’s license.
These are just a sampling of the disastrous consequences of a wrongful conviction.
Organizations Supporting the Wrongfully Convicted
As a society, we have tolerated wrongful convictions for years. Fortunately, a few lawyers knew that some cases deserved further scrutiny.
If you or someone you love is incarcerated for a crime you did not commit, then you can contact one of the following organizations for help:
You can also call the Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, for more information on how we can help you regain your freedom after a wrongful conviction.
Wrongfully Convicted Cases
Each year, several people regain their freedom thanks to the heroic efforts of lawyers and justice organizations who fight for the wrongfully incarcerated. Here are some recent victories:
- A 48-year-old man from Massachusetts won his freedom from a life sentence for a robbery and fatal shooting after a judge found police wrongdoing;
- A Georgia man regained his freedom after DNA on a ski mask worn during a robbery and killing exonerated him; and
- A North Carolina man received his freedom after serving 44 years out of an 80-year sentence for rape and burglary after exposing police misconduct that led to his conviction.
These are just a few examples of innocent people who never gave up hope and kept fighting for justice.
We Offer Hope to People Facing Long Odds
We will get to work on your case and do what we can to prevent a wrongful conviction from occurring in the first place.
Our lawyers have won numerous prestigious awards for their dedication to justice. Additionally, the California State Bar Board of Specialization has certified Mr. Armstrong as a specialist in criminal law.
Call us today to speak with one of our award-winning criminal defense attorneys.