Imagine being imprisoned for life for heinous crimes that were committed by a different suspect. A suspect who is convicted of a crime that they did not actually commit is defined as a wrongful conviction. Appealing the decision could be a long and painful process that does not always result in an acquittal or remuneration. There are many consequences of wrongfully convicting a suspect, which affects both the legal system and the innocent person being convicted. Being wrongfully convicted can be frustrating for not only the individual being accused, but for the rest of society as well. This is because wrongful convictions show a flaw in the system and allow guilty people to roam free while innocent people suffer. Different countries have different legal system which means they will prevent and correct errors of wrongful conviction differently.
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The Miscarriages of Justice
A majority of crimes go undetected and in cases where an arrest occurs, there are few actually sentenced (Walker & McCartney, 2010, p. 184). This is to avoid convicting innocent people with minimal evidence. Many wrongful convictions are a result of six direct miscarriages of justice. The first miscarriage is unfair processes through the procedures of the justice system (Walker & McCartney, 2010, p. 186). The person being wrongfully convicted may be treated as guilty from the beginning rather than innocent suspect (Walker & McCartney, 2010, p. 186). The second miscarriage is denial of rights, which occurs from laws that violate rights such as euthanasia (Walker & McCartney, 2010, p. 187). A third miscarriage is when there is no justification for punishment where a person is punished for a crime that they have no relation to (in the wrong place at the wrong time) (Walker & McCartney, 2010, p. 187). Disproportionate treatment is another miscarriage that refers to punishments that are only imposed for the purpose of degrading the suspect such as an extensive search beyond reasonable means (Walker & McCartney, 2010, p. 187). Failure to protect victims and the possibility of victims being treated unfairly are the fifth and sixth miscarriages of justice (Walker & McCartney, 2010, p. 187).
The United Kingdom
The appeal procedure makes it difficult for an innocent person to escape the United Kingdom system because there are limited resources in jail and people with limited economical means may not be able to pay for the resources. A wrongfully convicted person would seek help from the Home Office under section 17 of the Criminal Appeal Act 1968 if their appeal had been unsuccessful specifically for cases of indictment (Walker & McCartney, 2010, p. 194). The Royal Commission on Criminal Justice was used to address residual error in the past (Walker & McCartney, 2010, p. 193). It took no action against committed errors, but rather campaigned to prevent wrongful convictions and allocate resources (Walker & McCartney, 2010, p. 193). The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) enhances the help for those wrongfully convicted through the use of preparation of application, resources, consideration, reinvestigations, disclosure of evidence, and a referral to the Court of Appeal (Walker & McCartney, 2010, pp. 194-195).
The CCRC is an independent body that has a receptive approach with an enhanced structure (Walker & McCartney, 2010, p. 197). This enhanced structure includes a plethora of resources, a larger amount of staff to complete tasks quicker and more expertise as past mistakes have been learned from and there is a greater variety of people (Walker & McCartney, 2010, p. 197). Even with a larger number of staff the CCRC still experiences severe delays in processing requests and there is a low referral rate to help prevent more of a backlog (Walker & McCartney, 2010, p. 197). Receiving compensation for wrongful conviction has also become a concern under s. 133 of the Criminal Justice Act is those who suffered from wrongful conviction need to prove they deserve the money (Walker & McCartney, 2010, pp. 204-205). Those who are wrongfully accused are not helped with reintegration into society after long prison sentences (Walker & McCartney, 2010, p. 205). Instead they are released immediately because the system wants no association with them. This is likely because they are embarrassed of the wrongful conviction and the person does not belong in prison, so they are concerned with releasing them as quick as possible for lawsuit purposes. In the future, reintegration services should be offered to wrongfully accused people as an optional service upon release
Israel’s legal system required an application to be submitted to the state Attorney General before 1995 who reviewed three requirements to release someone with a wrongful conviction (Rattner, 2010, p. 265). Those requirements were to examine the existing evidence, a discovery of new evidence and another person had been convicted at the time for committing the act (Rattner, 2010, p. 265). This created a judicial barrier and enforced the rule of finality (Rattner, 2010, p. 265). The rule of finality refers to once a decision has been made on a case it is found to be the truth and there is no other explanation as their decision is final (Rattner, 2010, p. 265). Due to this system, judicial errors have only been recognized in three cases within 52 years but of the three cases no one defendant was found innocent (Rattner, 2010, p. 266). In 1995 an amendment was adopted to section 31 which allowed for retrials if there was probable cause that the person was wrongfully accused (Rattner, 2010, p. 266). The Attorney General of Israel is apart of the review procedures with the Supreme Court which is controversial (Rattner, 2010, p. 270). The review board (Attorney General) should be independent from the Supreme court because mistakes are more likely to be recognized if they are not a part of the same system (Rattner, 2010, p. 270). The system is likely to be corrupt if they are together because they will be able to converse on an equal level about the claims and it could become more susceptible to bribery. If they are separate, then it is less likely the Attorney General will try to cover the trail of the Supreme Court and would be more willing to go against the ruling. The biggest problem with the Israel court system is they believe their courts do not commit errors (Rattner, 2010, p. 271). This means safeguards will not be able to help their system until Israel admits that their courts can make errors. The country may be reluctant to admit that court errors may happen because it could cause their citizens to lose faith in their system.
Even though the United Kingdom has problems with their system for wrongful convictions, it is argued that it has the best system for dealing with wrongful convictions in comparison to the other three countries. Israel’s system could arguable be the worst for dealing with wrongful convictions as they are in the mindset that their court could do no wrong. No system will ever be perfect, but if a country is proactive in trying to better their practices then they will see a significant improvement with wrongful convictions.
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Campbell, K. (2010). The fallibility of justice in Canada: A critical examination of conviction review. In Huff, C. R., & Killias, M. (Eds.). Wrongful conviction: International perspectives on miscarriages of justice (pp. 117- 138). Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.
Rattner, A. (2010). The sanctity of criminal law: Thoughts and reflections on wrongful conviction in Israel. In Huff, C. R., & Killias, M. (Eds.). Wrongful conviction: International perspectives on miscarriages of justice (pp. 263-272). Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.
Walker, C., & McCartney, C. (2010). Criminal justice and miscarriages of justice in England and Wales. In Huff, C. R., & Killias, M. (Eds.). Wrongful conviction: International perspectives on miscarriages of justice (pp. 183-212). Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.