As the pace of DNA exonerations has grown across the country in recent years, wrongful convictions have revealed disturbing fissures and trends in our criminal justice system. Together, these cases show us how the criminal justice system is broken and how urgently it needs to be fixed. We should learn from the system’s failures. In each case where DNA has proven innocence beyond doubt, an overlapping array of causes has emerged from mistakes to misconduct to factors of race and class. Over the past twenty years, advancement in DNA technology has directly led to the exoneration of nearly 300 people in the United States. In addition to these scientific advancements, a growing body of literature has focused on the significant roles eyewitness misidentification, so-called “jailhouse snitches,” and false confessions have played in contributing to wrongful convictions in U.S. courts. Through an examination of previous wrongful conviction research and appellate court rulings, will also explore the extent to which permitting wrongful convictions to be upheld constitutes a violation of civil liberties.
While DNA technology and other advanced forensic techniques are increasingly being relied upon to secure criminal convictions, the justice system seems to be correspondingly reluctant to consider these forms of evidence for the purposes of overturning the convictions of the factually innocent. A confession is arguably the most damaging evidence that can be brought against a defendant in a court of law. Ostensibly, it seems reasonable to assume that one would only confess to a crime that he or she had actually committed. However, in the United States, false confessions may result in nearly 400 wrongful felony convictions annually. The American criminal justice system is based on the concept that wrongs have causes, that such causes are preventable, and that injurious acts warrant recompense to victims as well as punishment for offenders. If the problem is to be addressed and rectified, it must first be understood; not as it is perceived, but as it is.
The relationship between wrongful convictions and legal procedure is not one of simple cause and effect. Rather, this problem represents a dynamic interaction between defendants and observers wherein all parties play an active role. However, the wrongful conviction trend has only been subjectively accepted by the general public to any measurable degree within the past two decades. In conclusion, the introduction of DNA testing to the courtroom has certainly elevated the issue into public discourse. This landmark case initiated the movement which has been responsible for overturning more than 300 convictions to date. Once assumed to be a preposterous notion, 94 percent of recent poll respondents believed that innocent defendants are sometimes executed via the American judicial process. Unfortunately, researchers will likely never know exactly how many innocent defendants have lost their lives, or the better part of them, due to miscarriages of justice.