The criminal justice system in the United States is a complex structure designed to punish and prevent criminal criminals while also ensuring victims receive justice. The trials, prosecutors, convicts, and suspects are all part of an interconnected network that makes up the scheme. However, numerous players of the legal system have established concerns that threaten the integrity of the criminal justice system in the United States. Juvenile criminals, race, excessive imprisonment, opioid offenders, and false prosecutions are some of the issues. The paper is going to narrow down to the aspect of wrongful convictions in the criminal justice system in the United States and explain how/why it is a problem. The research will also identify a plan for improvement or solution for wrongful convictions, and explain how the program will improve the state of the criminal justice system.
Wrongful conviction arises when the prosecution presents invalid evidence that the court relies on convicting the accused. Also, a wrongful conviction occurs where the defendant is not adequately presented in court, leading to a weaker defense and subsequently, conviction. Also, the prejudices of the jurors may result in a wrongful conviction; this includes racial issues and biases. Wrongful conviction is a problem to the criminal justice system because it violates the right to justice and fair trial as envisioned in the Constitution and the Magna Carta (Ramsey and James 436). Wrongful conviction arises from a procedural and substantive error in law (Rattner 125). The aggrieved party has a remedy in the form of lodging an appeal. However, the procedural technicalities of appeal also lead to wrongful convictions. The convictions defeat the goal of the criminal justice system, which is to administer justice to all parties. Therefore, this is a major problem in the criminal justice system.
Wrongful conviction results in punishing people who are innocent or did not deserve that kind of sentence. As discussed above, it arises from invalid evidence, lack of proper representation, and the prejudices of the jurors. In 1996, the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act was passed (Huff and Killias 75). This is a federal statute of limitation. It arose after the 1995 Oklahoma bombings, and the Republican victory in the 1994 mid-term elections. The law puts a limitation of one year period after the initial appeal, for the accused to petition for the last hearing. Many convictions that are wrong have been effected courtesy of this law. Many accused people are denied the right to review their cases because of the expiry of the one-year limitation period. In the case of Kenneth Rose who had been charged with murder, robbery, and attempted rape, the writ of habeas corpus failed because he missed the deadline by one day (Ramsey and James 471). Therefore, because of the procedural technicalities, his right to a fair hearing was extinguished. The Act perpetuates wrongful convictions because it prevents any exonerating evidence from being admitted in a court of law. Also, in Kenneth’s case, one of the jurors was accused of his prejudices and racism. Joseph Barnyard, whose mother had been raped and killed earlier, supported the conviction of Rose because he thought the Blacks derived satisfaction by raping old white women. Another case of wrongful conviction was the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham in 2004 for setting on fire that killed his three daughters. Despite the insistence of innocence, he was executed. Later it was found that the prosecution had relied on invalid evidence for a conviction (Ramsey and James 473). The illustrations above demonstrate why wrongful conviction is a major problem in the criminal justice system. Innocent people have been given undeserving sentences or even killed.
An elaborate plan that involves all the players in the criminal justice system will help fight wrongful convictions. The project involves coming up with a policy tailored towards addressing the needs of prisoners. The plan should give an overriding interest to detainees: no limitation should be placed on evidence that is intended to exonerate the accused person (DNA evidence and some inmates were being exonerated after fifteen years since sentencing). To achieve this, the habeas law will be amended to include a proviso that in capital offenses equitable tolling is allowed. The Act was intended to solve the issue of prolonged delays in carrying out death sentences. However, after the law was passed the delay has grown from ten years to fifteen years. Also, the plan should contain a requirement that in capital offenses, it is mandatory to corroborate evidence before anyone is sentenced. Corroboration ensures that one is convicted after conclusive evidence is admitted. Lastly, under the plan, a specialized unit of lawyers should be set up to deal with the technical procedural matters of the criminal cases. For instance, in the habeas case, many inmates were convicted because of matters of procedure; expiry of time, the inexperience of lawyers, or filing improperly. The unit ensures that such circumstances above are avoided. Also, an accountability mechanism for lawyers should be available to make sure that those who are not diligent are punished or struck off the bar. It is the inefficiency of lawyers that lead to wrongful conviction of their clients.
The plan is important in improving the operations of the criminal justice system because it erases the legal pitfalls like the limitation of time that has condemned many inmates to death. Also, the plan ensures there is no wrongful conviction by corroboration of evidence. Todd Willingham was executed despite his alleged innocence because the court did not corroborate the evidence. Also, the lawyers play a significant role in the justice system and under the plan, they are vital in defeating wrongful convictions. Wrongful convictions are problems that have been in the judiciary since time immemorial. However, with the right attitude and resolve, it will be defeated.
Huff, Ronald and Martin Killias. Wrongful conviction: International perspectives on miscarriages of justice. Temple University Press, 2010.
Ramsey, Robert and Frank James. “Wrongful conviction perceptions of criminal justice professionals regarding the frequency of wrongful conviction and the extent of system errors.” Crime & Delinquency, 53(3) (2007): 436-470.
Rattner, Arye. “Convicted but innocent: Wrongful conviction and the criminal justice system.” Law and Human Behavior, 12(3) (1988): 283.