200 Innocent and Counting

Back in January I wrote a post about how our criminal justice system needs significant reform. A truly wonderful organization founded in 1992 called The Innocence Project is trying to bring about similar reforms I wrote about as well as a few others. Thanks in part to the efforts of The Innocence Project, 200 wrongfully convicted are now free. Of the 200 exonerated, 14 were on death row (This in itself is making me lean a lot more against the death penalty).

While the fact that these individuals have regained their freedom is very good news, this also raises a whole lot of other questions. For these 200 individuals, there is the question of “now what?” meaning, what are they going to do with the rest of their lives and how do they reintegrate into society? Some states offer the wrongfully convicted compensation for time served while others won’t even apologize. Another question raised is “how many more are doing time for crimes they did not commit?” It’s not hard to imagine that these 200 cases are representative of a much larger number. Perhaps even more important questions are “how does this happen in our system which promises liberty and justice for all?” and “how do we fix the system?”

To the last two questions, The Innocence Project has found some answers. The top seven reasons why these individuals were convicted: eyewitness misidentification, unreliable or limited science, false confessions, forensic science fraud or misconduct, government misconduct, bad informants or “snitches,” bad lawyering, or a combination of these causes. While challenging, all of these causes can be reexamined and be reformed with some imagination and common sense.

The Innocence Project has some proposed solutions to these problems such as reforming the methods for eyewitness identification, interrogation reforms such as recording interrogations, preserving DNA and other evidence even after convictions, crime lab oversight, criminal justice reform commissions, and perhaps most importantly, exoneree compensation. If we demand justice for both the victims and the accused, none of these reforms should be too much to ask.

Recommended Reading: 200 Exonerated: Too Many Wrongfully Convicted [pdf]