We have previously written about the importance of hard and fast scientific evidence in the prosecution or defense of serious crimes. In recent years, Wisconsin has been working hard to update its criminal DNA database, and this is actually a good thing for the majority of individuals on either side of the law.

We want our criminal justice system to be fair. But sadly, mistakes and missteps are made more often than most would like to believe. Recently, two prominent universities compiled a National Registry of Exonerations made for wrongful convictions of serious crimes like rape and murder.

The registry reveals that since 1989, more than 2,000 wrongful convictions have been overturned. That amounts to the discovery of over 2,000 people who wasted years or even decades behind bars for crimes they didn’t commit. And because DNA evidence is growing more sophisticated and more cases are being reexamined, the number of overturned convictions could continue to grow.

This national registry is one of the largest and most extensive of its kind. Hopefully, it will shed some light on the reasons that individuals are wrongfully convicted. Some common reasons discovered so far include:

  • Witnesses who lied or who later recanted
  • Inaccurate or faulty eyewitness testimony
  • Corruption within the police department or prosecutorial misconduct
  • Defendants who gave false confessions after investigators had browbeaten them with persistent and prolonged questioning

With all that can go wrong in a trial, it is important to remember that a defendant may have a variety of options regarding appeals and post-conviction motions. A conviction is not necessarily the final judgment, especially if it is a wrongful conviction. Defendants in any step of the process may greatly benefit from the help of a qualified criminal defense attorney.

Source: L.A. Times, “Registry tallies over 2,000 wrongful convictions since 1989,” David G. Savage, May 20, 2012

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