Consequences of Miscarriage of Justice

A Miscarriage of Justice

A miscarriage of justice frequently occurs when a defendant or accused person receives a conviction and sentence for a crime they did not conduct. Most often, these verdicts result from mistakes made during the defendant's trial, either through incorrect application of the law or factual mistakes. The defendant who was victimized by the miscarriage of justice frequently has the right to appeal to a higher court, which, if it finds the appeal to be valid, can order a retrial and, if successful, reverse the verdict, and the accused person can be acquitted of the criminal offence. It should be noted that miscarriage of justice impacts heavily on the lives of defendants even after they have been exonerated of the specific charges that had been levied upon them. This paper attempts to highlight the specific consequences that are associated with miscarriage of justice.

Problems of Everyday Life

Once an individual has been incarcerated for a specific crime, they have to realign themselves to ensure that they are cognizant of the fact that they will not have the liberty to see the outside world until they have fully served their sentence. Their lives are often cut short prematurely, and this tremendously disorients the convicts. The exonerees who had suffered from a miscarriage of justice hardly know that they are going to be released from prison. The criminal justice system is not designed in a manner that gives them ample time to plan for their life after prison (Keine 2012, p.1503-1504). It is usually like the relevant stakeholders are not alive to the fact that the exonerees had been cut off from the society and they will need to be reintegrated.

According to Huff & Killias (2013) some of the post-miscarriage of justice effects often include finding a place to live, securing medical care and finding employment opportunities. It should be noted that in as much as a convicted felon has been acquitted of a specific crime, this does not extinguish their criminal record. Employers can easily find these records. The acquitted felons often have a daunting task responding to questions requesting them to affirm or deny whether they have been convicted of any crime. On one hand it is true that they have ever been convicted of a crime, but on the other hand, it is also true that they were exonerated from the crime owing to the miscarriage of justice. Potential employers inadvertently would not want anything to do with previously convicted felons and will turn down all attempts from the exoneree to explain their side of the story (Huff & Killias 2013, p.266).

More often, the review of a convict's case is a relatively lengthy process, and during the review, the convict is still serving his time. Even after they have been released, they would have lost some considerable number of months or years, and the chances are that they might have a hard time catching up with the some of the advancement in their profession. In most cases, employers who give them a chance are very sceptical, and they rarely accord them the opportunity to adapt to the current trends in the specific field they are in (Huff & Killias 2013, p.266). Persons who had been convicted of capital offences such as murder or robbery with violence are often alienated from their families, and once they are out of prison, they tend to struggle to find a roof over their heads. Furthermore, many of them leave the prisons having contracted various illnesses and complications such as hepatitis, diabetes, asthma and arthritis. These combinations of misfortunes often scuttle them and make the exonerees' stay after their release highly problematic.

Ruptured Relationships

According to Grounds (2004), miscarriage of justice which leads to wrongful convictions tends to affect the friendship and family ties that a person has. As a result of the negative publicity that is drawn from certain crimes, friends and family tend to distance themselves from the defendant (Austin, Hardyman, and Irwin 2002, p.70). A case in point could be in cases where an individual has been charged and convicted of defilement or rape. Such crimes are usually perceived as immoral acts and might cause close friends to desire to be associated with a convicted defiler or rapist. In other cases, families tend to move on after their loved one has been incarcerated leaving one alone and abandoned in prison. Even after they have been released, they will always feel some sense of betrayal and not want to associate with members of the family who abandoned them when they were needed the most. Sometimes the relationships might be completely irreparable whereas in other instances the exoneree gets to get over it and life goes on. Vollertsen (2012) holds a contrary view to the position expounded above. He states that at times, economies might have better relationships with their family or friends who were there when he was in prison and might feel indebted to them. Furthermore, as a result of the distance, an exoneree had from their family they might appreciate their presence more than they used to before they were convicted.

Emotional Toll

Miscarriage of justice often carries an emotional toll on the wrongly convicted felons. It is painstaking to be accused of doing a certain act whereas in a real sense you are innocent. Moreover even after a person has been exonerated, the emotional trauma still weighs down upon them (Wilderman et al. 2011). The freedom the exonerees get is one that came at a price. They had to endure serving time for a criminal act they did not commit which inadvertently disoriented their lives. In most cases an individual tends to lose their employment opportunities, their family, their friends, missed opportunities and their reputation. The pain of coming to terms with all these losses is usually overwhelming and debilitating. While some exonerees are positive and objective about their lives after prison, most of them have a difficult time dealing with the emotional trauma that is associated with the wrongful conviction. Sharp (2005) highlights the fact that some of the exonerees end up bottling up their emotions and they usually break down at the sight of their loved ones.

Social Stigma

As a result of the wrongful convictions, exonerees are usually stigmatised by the members of the society. Some of the people around where the exoneree resides will hardly acknowledge the fact that they are not criminals. In case of capital offences, the exonerees are looked at suspiciously, and the community hardly accepts that they did not participate in the said crime. According to Cook (2008), the stigma associated with convicts returning home curtail the reintegration process. Some of the members of the community tend to believe that the exoneree was only let out of prison after exploring a technicality in the criminal justice system. Public officials at times increase the levels of stigmatisation by alleging that they still believe that the exoneree is guilty. Furthermore, the convicts who have been released as a result of miscarriage of justice end up being branded criminals in public, they are taunted and also humiliated. All these things end up making the exoneree feel unwelcomed or unwanted at the place they once called home. It is usually an uphill task for someone who has been released from prison to rebuild their lives as long as they are being castigated by other members of the community (Westervelt and Cook 2012, p.104).

Copying with the Aftermath

As highlighted in the text above it is evident that serving time in prison is usually a life-changing event for anyone. Other than losing one's precious time, the emotional and psychological effects of miscarriage of justice are often far-reaching. One has to contend with the trauma associated with incarceration for the rest of their lives (Lifton 2001, p.213). Copying with the aftermath of being convicted of a crime that you never committed in the first place is usually painstaking. This point of view is affirmed by Erikson (1976) when he gave his account of the buffalo creek mining accident where one of the survivors compared his trauma to that of a prisoner who was sentenced for a crime that he did not commit. In order to assist exonerees to cope with the aftermath of their wrongful convictions, Westervelt and Cook (2012) suggested that some strategies need to be put in place to assist the exonerees. The proposal they gave was to put in place an avoidance approach as well as an incorporation approach (Westervelt and Cook 2012, p.135). The latter technic addresses the ramifications of trauma whereas the former assists the exoneree to embrace their new status within the society.

Reintegration and Restoration

It is usually very challenging for the exonerees to pick up from where they had left their lives before they were incarcerated. The reintegration and restoration initiatives usually take long and require concerted efforts from all stakeholders both from the criminal justice system and the society at large. Unfortunately, there lacks an appropriate framework for reintegration, and the exonerees are just released to the society without any consideration for their welfare. Ideally, the state should ensure that some of their immediate concerns are addressed after they have been released. These concerns include their legal needs, financial needs and health needs. Their legal needs usually revolve around instituting proceedings against the state for compensation as result of their wrongful conviction and also to have their criminal records expunged. Financially, necessary steps need to be taken to ensure that the exoneree either receives some vocational training or some stipend to keep them going as they look for permanent employment (Innocence Project 2009, p.15). Finally with regards to their health care needs the state needs to ensure that the exoneree is subjected to both physical and mental check-ups to ascertain that they are okay.


Miscarriage of justice is a highly emotive issue within the country. Care needs to be taken to ensure that defendants facing trial at the courts of law are not convicted on account of errors of law and fact. Since the burden of proof in criminal cases is usually beyond reasonable doubt trial courts, need to be certain that this evidentiary burden has been discharged before a defendant is convicted and sentenced for a given crime. As it has been highlighted in the text above the consequences of miscarriage of justice are overwhelming and emotionally traumatising. Nonetheless, if concerted efforts are taken by all relevant stakeholders to reintegrate an exoneree back to the society, they will feel more welcomed.


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