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When a person has wrongfully convicted means that they were charged and incarcerated for a crime that was not committed by them and it is later proven that the individual did not commit the crime. Unfortunately, wrongful convictions are very common. Steven Avery, from Making a Murderer: Part 1 is a great example of a case in which a person is wrongfully convicted. This also shows how police corruption can impact a case when someone is being wrongfully convicted. In addition to revealing police corruption, these wrongful convictions being overturned reveal bad trends in the criminal justice system contributing to this issue.
It is important to note that these wrongful convictions that are being overturned are not the only wrongful convictions that have occurred. There are many more that have an extremely slim chance of obtaining proof due to not having access to DNA. This is extremely sad for those people. “We should learn from the system’s failures. In each case where DNA has proven innocence beyond doubt, an overlapping array of contributing factors has emerged – from mistakes to misconduct to factors of race and class” (Contributing Causes of Wrongful Conviction, 1).
The innocence project made a very good point here, learning from these errors in the system will be an enormous help to prevent instances like these in the future while also correcting errors that have already been made.
In Making a Murderer, they start out by showing Steven Avery being released from jail and returning home to his family. Avery was exonerated after 18 years in jail for a crime that he did not commit.
‘The average time served for the 1,625 exonerated individuals in the registry is more than nine years (Gross, 1)”. This statistic shows that for all of these cases of wrongful conviction, it takes a lot of time for the mistake to be discovered and for the innocent to be exonerated. According to the Innocence Project, the most contributing cause of wrongful convictions is eyewitness misidentification. This is a very important aspect of convicting a person of a crime because in cases where there is no DNA or other evidence, it is all the police have to go off of. Unfortunately, this is what also caused Steven Avery to be convicted. In addition to police corruption, this was the main reason Steven Avery got convicted. In a case like this, there is rarely any other evidence besides the witness identification of the suspect. Investigators would be lucky to find DNA evidence or any other evidence that contributes to the solving of the crime.
“We know without doubt that the vast majority of innocent defendants who are convicted of crimes are never identified and cleared (Gross, 1). Sadly, many wrongful convictions are never made right due to not having enough evidence to prove their innocence. In Steven Avery’s case, the victim was tricked into believing that Avery was the man who had assaulted her. When she was giving the description of the man to the criminal sketch artist at the Manitowoc County Police Department, he drew a picture practically identical to Steven Avery’s mugshot from an earlier crime. The problem with police corruption is that they never want to admit their mistakes. The police department had received Steven Avery’s mugshot before the drawing was made but the sketch artist who drew the victims description denied ever looking at it before he drew her description. Steven Avery gave no other reasons to believe it was him. He was at a disadvantage throughout this whole process due to his family never really being involved with the community and living out on his family’s property and auto-salvage yard.
He had committed two other crimes in the past but he admitted to them and had no problem accepting the consequences. The crimes were burglary which he served 10 months in jail for and mistreatment of an animal which he served 9 months for. Avery claimed that those two criminal acts were due to hanging out with the wrong people (Piwowarski, 1). One thing he said he was not going to do was admit to a crime that he did not commit. A very important contributing factor to Avery’s conviction was the police departments involvement. Another huge factor in Avery’s case that the police used against him was the fact that he ran a local woman who was also a distant relative off of the road and pulled a gun on her. “He admitted to doing so, though he claimed the gun wasn’t loaded. His reason for doing so, he said, was that she had previously reported that he harassed her and made lewd gestures toward her” (Nededog, 3). That was not a smart move and did not help Avery when he was being investigated for sexual assault and attempted murder. She was married to a county deputy in the police department wanted him to be punished. “Even though Avery had an alibi and another police department identified a different possible suspect, Avery was convicted of the crimes and given 32 years without a chance for parole” (Nededog, 3). This quote shows how corrupt the system is and that changes need to be made. Ignoring that there could be other suspects and ignoring the fact that Avery had an alibi is just completely wrong. Avery should not have run her off the road or pointed a gun at her, loaded or unloaded, but he did not deserve to go to jail for a crime that he did not commit.
In addition to eyewitness misidentification, according to the innocence project, other contributing causes of wrongful conviction include unvalidated/ improper forensics, false confessions/ admissions and informants/ snitches. Out of the first 325 DNA exonerations, 235 cases were to eyewitness misidentification, 154 cases were due to unvalidated/ improper forensics, 88 cases were due to false confessions/ admissions, and 48 cases were due to informant/ snitches (Contributing Causes of Wrongful Conviction, 1). They also mention government misconduct and bad lawyering as being contributing causes (Contributing Causes of Wrongful Conviction, 1). Another big problem with wrongful conviction is the aspect of the death penalty. According to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, “It shows that 4.1 percent of defendants who are sentenced to death in the United States are later shown to be innocent: 1 in 25(Gross, 2). When a person is at risk of receiving the death penalty for a crime that they did not commit there is an extreme problem. A person is incredibly lucky to be exonerated after being wrongfully convicted.
The very sad truth is that no matter how long a person was in jail after being wrongfully convicted, they are still considered lucky if they were released before the end of the sentence (Gross, 2). According to the Washington post, “Most of them have clients who remain in prison despite powerful evidence of their innocence that no court will consider. And they all know that there are countless innocent defendants hidden in the piles of pleas for help that they will never have time to investigate” (Gross, 2). There are many causes for wrongful conviction and in order to correct these problems they need to be identified. “Wrongful conviction is on the rise because the protections against it have been eroded by the pursuit of devils—drug dealers, child molesters, environmental polluters, white-collar criminals, and terrorists—all of whom must be rounded up at all cost” (Roberts, 569). This quote is explaining that the reason for wrongful conviction being on the rise is due to the desire to catch all criminals no matter what.
“The New Deal made its own contribution to wrongful conviction. An important feature of much New Deal legislation was congressional delegation of law-making power to regulatory agencies. Delegation combined statutory authority and enforcement authority in the same hands. The bureaucrats’ ability to define criminal offenses by their interpretation of the regulations that they write gives regulatory police vast discretion. A cooperative “offender” may get off with a civil penalty, whereas a person who sticks up for his rights or a person who presents a high-profile opportunity to an ambitious prosecutor may receive a criminal indictment. The bureaucrats’ ability to create criminal offenses spontaneously by interpretation makes law uncertain and renders it unable to fulfill its purpose of commanding what is right and prohibiting what is wrong.”
This quote is important due to the fact that it reveals just how corrupt the system is getting. Bureaucrats should not be able to define criminal offenses by their interpretations of the regulations, it should be the same for everyone and everything and there should be no bias or vast discretion by anyone. Cases should be solved by following the law and rights of the people. A person should not be punished with a criminal indictment just because they stick up for their rights. Cases should be solved based on proof with no doubt that a person is innocent or guilty. On the other hand, a person should not be let off the hook with only a civil penalty just because they are being cooperative.
Another issue that is important in cases where people are wrongfully convicted is that it ruins their lives. For example, in The Washington Post, Samuel R. Gross explains the story of Rafael Suarez. Suarez was convicted of a vicious felony assault that another man plead guilty to. Suarez had witnesses that could attest that he did not attack the victim but his lawyer ignored what they told him and none of them were called to testify at the trial. Suarez ended up being convicted of the crime and sentenced to five years. When these facts came out and Suarez was released, he had nothing to come back to. His wife divorced him, he lost his house and his job, and he could not become a paralegal like he planned to. He also lost parental rights to his three children. This wrongful conviction ruined the life that Suarez had planned for himself.
With all of this being said, I think it is very clear that there are problems with the system that need to be fixed. Steven Avery is considered one of the “lucky” ones due to DNA being discovered and proving his innocence. Not everyone is that lucky. In fact, according to the innocence project, “for every case that involves DNA, there are hundreds that do not”. Without DNA evidence it is almost impossible to prove a persons innocence in a wrongful conviction case.
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