Ten Factors in a Criminal Case That Can Lead to a Wrongful Conviction
While every criminal case is unique, a recent three-year study from the Washington Institute for Public and International Affairs Research at American University has identified 10 factors that are common to wrongful convictions. The research sheds light on the critical components of a criminal case and helps legal scholars uncover how such factors differ from cases where innocent defendants are acquitted. The U.S. Justice Department's National Institute of Justice funded the research, released March 2013, requesting answers as to why innocent people go to prison for violent crimes they have not done.
From 1980 to 2012, researchers of the study identified 460 wrongful convictions and cases of acquittals or dismissals of innocent suspects. An analysis of the cases involved in the research suggests there are 10 important factors that can be used to predict when a wrongful conviction might occur. The 10 factors identified by the team of researchers were established as the following:
- A particular state's culture surrounding the death penalty (taking into account the number of executions per population)
- The strength of the prosecution's argument
- The strength of the defendant's case
- Whether the prosecution withholds evidence from the defense
- Errors in forensic evidence
- The defendant's age
- The defendant's criminal history
- Deliberate witness misidentification
- Lying (by a non-witness)
- The use of family witnesses (who testify on behalf of the defendant)
In addition to these factors, the study determined that the interrogation and investigation stages of a case are additionally essential. If these portions are not conducted thoroughly, a case could spiral into a series of errors. To prevent critical issues, scholars recommend that police officers utilize checklists to ensure they are looking at all elements of a case. Furthermore, experts note that forensic testing should be performed early in a case by trained professionals.
When an attorney represents a particular defendant, he or she carries a heavy burden. It is the professional's job to ensure that every piece of a case is addressed - from the investigation all the way to the closing argument of a trial (and sentencing, if applicable). There are so many players in the criminal justice system, and a qualified attorney can keep tabs on those involved to help ensure that nothing is overlooked and people are doing their jobs in accordance with the law. To protect your case, retain the assistance of an experienced criminal law attorney.