“InJustice”?

The trailer for this show claims that “thousands of innocent Americans are wrongly convicted each year.” Anyone have any idea if that is correct? Sounds like an overblown marketing ploy to me.

UPDATE: And then there’s this.

Timotheos

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28 thoughts on ““InJustice”?

  1. There have been at least 328 exonerations since 1989, and about half of those since 1999 were based on DNA evidence. Since reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, 102 people sentenced to death in the United States were exonerated after their trials. 41 Innocence Projects currently operate in 31 states providing legal assistance to inmates.

    Evidently, the problem was considered severe enough for a tough-on-crime Republican Congress to pass The Innocence Protection Act in 2004. This act provides federal inmates, in capital and non-capital cases, with access to post-conviction DNA testing and the right to seek post-conviction relief based on favorable DNA results, notwithstanding any procedural bar.

  2. They are innocent of what? Innocent in general, or innocent of the specific crime for which they where incarcerated.

    It’s kind of like letting a rappist out of jail because he didn’t commit the specific instance in question. It would be right to let him out legaly, but that doesn’t mean he is blameless.

    I’m happy that some innocent people where cleared. But, the term exonerated doesn’t mean the rest of these people where innocent. It just means the facts in the case do not support the conviction.

    Interesting conondrum.

  3. 328 are the confirmed cases – thousands more are still under review. If you consider the exponential growth of the US prison population, it is very possible that the wrongfully convicted number in the thousands.

    Even one case should cause concern and outrage, wouldn’t you think?

  4. “It’s kind of like letting a rappist out of jail because he didn’t commit the specific instance in question. It would be right to let him out legaly, but that doesn’t mean he is blameless.”

    We are not referring to criminals released on technicalities. We are discussing the probability that genuinely innocent people have been convicted in the US.

  5. We have the fairest judicial system in the world. I’m actually pretty surprised that we don’t find more people wrongly convicted.

    The increase in wrong convictions is disturbing, yes, but we have to put this in context with the increase in overall convictions. The good thing behind all these numbers is that the actual rate of wrong convicitions is going down, not up.

  6. Sure, I’m all for getting wrongly-convicted people out of jail. If it was me, I’d want it even more. I’m just not convinced that thousands are wrongly convicted each year. Sounds to me like an anti-death-penalty advocate wrote the trailer.

    Tim

  7. If we remember that judges and jurors are all sinful human beings, it should not be surprising that some innocent people are convicted. The best way to avoid conviction of innocent people that we have been able to come up with is to have the “presumption of innocence” that applies to those accused and to have the high standard of proof in criminal trials of “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

    This is not the same as it is in other countries. An interesting study would be the numbers (proportionally speaking, of course) of innocent persons convicted in other countries compared with the U.S.

  8. I understand your point, Mary. You do pose a fair argument. I am simply skeptical of the data used to argue the point. Not your fault that I am highly skeptical of the facts used to argue the point.

    My position is reflected in this article:

    I found it here: (html doesn’t seem to work for me here. sorry for the length of this URL.)
    http://centralkansas.cox.net/cci/newsnational/national?_mode=view&_state=maximized&view=article&id=D8F3I65G6

    01-12-2006 9:48 PM
    By KRISTEN GELINEAU, Associated Press Writer

    “New DNA tests confirmed the guilt of Coleman, who went to his death in Virginia’s electric chair in 1992 proclaiming his innocence, a spokeswoman for Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner said Thursday, Jan 12, 2006. The tests, ordered by the governor last month, prove Roger Keith Coleman was guilty of the 1981 rape and murder of his sister-in-law.”

    This is a high profile case touted as DNA evidence proving his innocence when in fact the DNA results proved his guilt.

    Point to this is to not jump to conclusions about all the arguments that DNA has unequivocally proven the innocence of hundreds of people, when in fact it hasn’t. Many of the media stories reflecting anti-death penalty positions use questionable data and we shouldn’t buy into the media hype without know all the facts.

  9. “Point to this is to not jump to conclusions about all the arguments that DNA has unequivocally proven the innocence of hundreds of people, when in fact it hasn’t. Many of the media stories reflecting anti-death penalty positions use questionable data and we shouldn’t buy into the media hype without know all the facts”

    Lawrence,

    I am not sure how you can surmise that one account of DNA proving an individual’s guilt is evidence that wrongful convictions are not a serious problem in the US. The statistics I provided were not from media sources or pieces of anti-death penalty propaganda. On the contrary, they are from the Northwestern Universtiy Law School – a highly reputable source.

    http://www.law.umich.edu/NewsAndInfo/exonerations-in-us.pdf

    The fact is, certain groups (i.e. minorities, the economically disadvantaged, etc.) are more likely to be wrongly convicted of crimes because of the lack of adequate legal representation available to them. Rather than dismissing their claims as propaganda, perhaps we should take a serious, critical look at our legal system.

  10. I’m not speaking about propaganda, so much as interpreting the data. Yes, some people do get convicted wrongly. I don’t like it, but this isn’t anything new, it’s been happening for all of recorded history.

    The data does show an increase in numbers, but it also reflects a decrease in overall rate. One can argue this same data in the negative, or the positive.

    I’m just pointing out that the system is working in a positive direction to reduce the rate of wrong convictions. The fact that the numbers of wrong convictions are going up is a consequence of overall crime going up. This is a societal problem, and really has nothing to do with the legal system.

  11. Mary,

    You also argue that: “The fact is, certain groups (i.e. minorities, the economically disadvantaged, etc.) are more likely to be wrongly convicted of crimes because of the lack of adequate legal representation available to them. Rather than dismissing their claims as.”

    I understand the argument, but the facts just do not support the claims. I agree that economically disadvantaged have less chance of having their cases dismissed. But this isn’t new, this has always been the case, as long as we’ve kept records of it.

    My point is that this does not correlate directly with whether or not they will receive a fair court judgement.

  12. “The fact that the numbers of wrong convictions are going up is a consequence of overall crime going up. This is a societal problem, and really has nothing to do with the legal system.”

    I am not sure what empirical evidence was used to develop this theory. Poor and minority defendandts’ lack of access to adequate legal representation and inability to afford proper DNA testing of evidence, false confessions brought about by aggressive interrogation tactics, and over-reliance on the testimony of questionable informants are all causes of wrongful convictions and they are, indeed, issues relating to our legal system. The idea that wrongful convictions are merely the result of an increase in convictions overall is a gross oversimplification.

    Also, it has primarily been the work of law schools and innocence projects that have brought attention to the problem of wrongful conviction. These are forces external to the justice system and they prove their cases in post-conviction proceedings. They are not preventing wrongful convictions.

    Simply because wrongful convictions have happened in the past does not mean that we should not be vigilant in preventing them now. Our legal system is not above reproach. That it is the “fairest” in the world is certainly debatable. Improvements can and should be made.

  13. Mary,

    We’re steering away from the original issue. Which I didn’t intend. And I did not intend to attack your argument. Just question the veracity of the “empirical evidence” being used in our arguments.

    However, you are now arguing my point for me. It was my point all along, which you now also reflect, that attention has indeed been brought to the problem and steps are being made. I interpret this as positive improvement because this reflects that things are getting better. Not worse as previously claimed.

  14. Furthermore, I did not say that wrongful convictions are a result of increased crime. I said the increase in wrongfull convictions is the consequence of of increased crime. Big difference.

    What is going down is the RATE of wrongful convicitions with respect to the whole. This reflects a positive shift, not a negative shift.

  15. Point is, that through efforts such as yours we are headed in the right direction. We are not where we want to be yet, but we are improving the system.

  16. Lawrence,

    We don’t quite have the same opinion on this. My view is that the legal system is flawed in numerous ways and it allows too many (primarily disadvantaged) people to be wrongly convicted. I think proactive measure need to be taken to correct the justice system itself. You have argued that we have the “fairest legal system in the world,” and that wrongful convicitions are an unfortunate happenstance. You also seem to think that the recent media attention to the issue and the actions of various groups to free the wrongly convicted are sufficient to solve the problem. I don’t believe that – I think we should make the system more fair to prevent people from being wrongly convicted in the first place.

    We don’t have the same opinion but that’s alright. Unless this is one of those blogs where we all have to agree with each other? 😉

  17. “Furthermore, I did not say that wrongful convictions are a result of increased crime. I said the increase in wrongfull convictions is the consequence of of increased crime. Big difference.”

    I don’t know how you can argue that these statements are different from each other. And, if you could, I’m not sure how it would change the interpretation of your argument. You specifically said that wrongful convictions are the result of society and not the legal system, and I don’t believe that.

    “What is going down is the RATE of wrongful convicitions with respect to the whole. This reflects a positive shift, not a negative shift.”

    What numbers are you using to come to this conclusion?

  18. “You specifically said that wrongful convictions are the result of society and not the legal system, and I don’t believe that.”

    No. This is not what I said. (However, since society is human then this argument is effectively true, given that humans are making the errors of conviction). But this is a different discussion.

    Lemme take stab at it this way:

    You are suggesting that the legal system is getting worse by showing that the NUMBER of problem convictions is going up.

    I am simply suggesting that the legal system is getting better by showing that the RATE of problem convictions is going down.

    The fact that the RATE is going down does reflect improvement in the legal system.

    What we can’t help is that more and more people are turning to crime in the first place causing overall convictions to go up. And this increase in overal crime is what is increasing the chance that a wrong conviction will occur.

    >>>
    “My view is that the legal system is flawed in numerous ways and it allows too many (primarily disadvantaged) people to be wrongly convicted.”

    I agree with you on this point. But this is not what we where originally discussing. I didn’t intend to try and argue against you on this point. However, I stand by my position that even though our system is flawed, it is still much fairer than other nation’s legal systems.

  19. You specifically said that wrongful convictions are the result of society and not the legal system, and I don’t believe that.

    “No. This is not what I said”

    “The fact that the numbers of wrong convictions are going up is a consequence of overall crime going up. This is a societal problem, and really has nothing to do with the legal system.”

    This is exactly what you said. Verbatim. Are you, by chance, a politician?

    Furthermore, you keep mentioning the RATE and the NUMBER of convictions. You don’t have any NUMBERS, so how have you calculated the RATE of wrongful convictions? Attorneys and researchers in the justice system haven’t nailed down these figures, but you think you have? You keep trying to show me statistical proof of your theory that the rate has gone down, but you don’t have any numbers to support it.

  20. Mary,

    You are the one who threw out the numbers… 328.. .thousands… etc… I’m just reflecting an alternate interpretation of the data.

    And, yes, you did quote me correctly. It is your interpretation of what I said that is wrong.

    What you say I said:”…wrongful convictions are the result of society and not the legal system,…”

    (In other posts I agreed with you that wrong convictions are a result of mistakes in the legal system).

    What I actually said:”…wrong convictions are going up is a consequence of overall crime going up.”

    (Please note that I am illustrating how the RATE of increase in convictions is tied directly to the RATE of increase of convictions in general). The fact that the rate of crime is going up, and convictions are going up, are indeed a societal problem.

    Now, back to the legal problem. Wrong convictions are a bad thing. But the fact that we are identifying 300+ wrong convictions and taking steps to correct them is still a good thing. Not a bad thing. To me this reflects that the system is working better than before, and therefore reflects improvement.

  21. Lawrence –

    They are my numbers. I provided them in response to the question of whether or not wrongful convictions are a legitimate problem in the US or if such allegations were propoganda. You’re “interpretation of the data” shows that you clearly misunderstood them. I provided the total number of exhonerations – that is, the total number of people freed from prison following a wrongful conviction – most after numerous years of incarceration. This number can in no way be interpreted to show the total number of people being wrongfully convicted as we speak. Your whole argument hinged on showing that the rate of wrongful convictions has gone down, but you don’t have any evidence to prove such a statement. How COULD such a study be done? If we knew someone was being wrongfully convicted as it was happening, it wouldn’t be happening, would it?

    I think lots of innocent people are going to jail. Tim and the others aren’t convinced. We don’t know what’s happening now, but, for me, knowing it’s happened before is enough to convice me that our system must strive for continuous improvement. Even one wrongful conviction is too many. Any allegation should be investigated, not just swept under the rug as “propoganda.”

    And it is not “progress” when agents outside the justice system (i.e. innocence projects, etc.) expend countless man hours and financial resources to free people who shouldn’t have been jailed in the first place.

    How you rationalize an alternate interpretation of the comment “This is a societal problem, and really has nothing to do with the legal system” is beyond me, particularly when it comes from the same author of “we have the fairest legal system in the world.” And then later, you stated that the legal system was flawed. Pardon me if I have trouble deciphering your meaning, but these statements are contradictory.

  22. Mary,

    First: “How you rationalize an alternate interpretation of the comment “This is a societal problem, and really has nothing to do with the legal system” is beyond me,..”

    Again. This is not what I said, at least not in context. This is what you want to hear becuase it supports your argument. But this is as much my fault for not articulating myself well to begin with.

    I’m illustrating that wrong convictions simply follow the trend as overal crime increases. And it is the increase in general crime that is a societal problem, not the wrong convictions.

    I agree with you that wrong convictions are a result of the judicial system making mistakes. However, the statistical probability of the number of wrong convictions going up in parallel to general crime is logically expected. It is also logical to see how the rate of wrong convictions can go down, even when the number of convictions go up.

    >>>
    Second: “I think lots of innocent people are going to jail. Tim and the others aren’t convinced. … Even one wrongful conviction is too many. Any allegation should be investigated, not just swept under the rug as “propaganda.”

    Again. I’m not arguing with you on this point. In fact all allegations are investigated, maybe not to your personal satisfaction, but I know of none that are swept-under or ignored. Yet, I do recognize there are unresolved allegations, defenses, and investigations being addressed.

    Please keep in mind, though, that innocent people going to jail has been happeing since the beginning of recorded history. It isn’t a new phenomenon. Yes, a huge priority for our legal system is based on not letting this happen. But, as well all know, it happens because of basic human error in the decision process.

    >>>
    Third: “And it is not “progress” when agents outside the justice system (i.e. innocence projects, etc.) expend countless man hours and financial resources to free people who shouldn’t have been jailed in the first place.”

    This is where we truly disagree. A large part of the justice system is made up of citizens, juries, and private law firms that help to convict people, sometimes wrongly. We are also the ones who influence the selection of legislatures who appoint judges, and we are the ones who elect other judges.

    There really are no better groups of people to address this problems that agents outside the justice system. This is what our government of checks and balances, and voting privilege, is all about. I also wish, as do you, that we should fix these problems faster. But the fact that we are identifying these problems and taking steps to fix them is a good thing.

  23. Lawrence,

    “This is a societal problem, and really has nothing to do with the legal system.” This is EXACTLY WHAT YOU SAID. Perhaps it is not what you MEANT, but do not try to dispute that it IS what you SAID. Your statement regarding the context is not relevant. “Nothing to do with the legal system” does not translate to “has to do with the legal system” in any context.

    “I’m illustrating that wrong convictions simply follow the trend as overal crime increases.”

    You cannot “illustrate a trend” without data. The data I showed had NOTHING to do with the current rate of wrongful convictions, as this is impossible to track. You took those numbers and made a HUGE leap in logic. You have produced merely a theory, and one that is unprovable, though you state it as if it were fact. You also made this statement, “I am simply suggesting that the legal system is getting better by showing that the RATE of problem convictions is going down,” which you likewise have no evidence for.

  24. Mary,

    Context is very relevant. I said what I meant, but I said it in such a way as to lead you to believe I said something else. Now, I can’t change what you have decided I said, so all I can do is try to correct the mis-understanding. If you choose not to believe me when I try to correct the context, then I’m stuck.

    So again, in context, what I meant to say is: “The societal problem is the fact that crime in general is going up.” Therefore, general convictions go up. As general convictions increase the chances of wrong convictions also increases.

    The fact that humans make errors in judgement and wrongly convict people is a human error problem. The judicial system is run by humans and therefore mistakes will be made.

    >>>
    Now, if the data in question does not relate to a rate of change, we can’t use the information to reflect improvement. A true statemet. But then, we also have no ability to use this same data to reflect that things are getting worse. Whithout reflecting a rate of change from something to somethinge else, neither one of us can say whether things are truly getting better or worse.

    But that isn’t what you are doing, you are stating that because there are more than Zero wrong convictions we have a serious problem with our judicial system. And this is a fair way to illustrate your argument.

    >>>
    Now, what about convictions that are based on faulty facts during the trial, or convictions where new facts are found sometime in the future?

    How can we blame the judicial system for making wrong convictions and judgements when the necessary information isn’t availalbe? How do we know if and when we have access to all the facts? How do we know for sure if the witnesses are telling the truth?

    Many of the wrong convictions we identify today are based on new science and technology that wasn’t available at the time of trial. There is often no way for judges and juries to know for absolute certain if a person is guilty, even when the preponderance of evidence points to them being guilty.

    And what about plea bargains? How can we guarantee that people are telling the truth when they plead guilty?

    If we continue with these arguments then we shouldn’t convict anyone, because there is a remote chance that all convictions are faulty in some small meausre.

  25. Lawrence,

    Been busy this week. Didn’t mean to snub you. Anyway…..

    “How can we blame the judicial system for making wrong convictions and judgements when the necessary information isn’t availalbe? How do we know if and when we have access to all the facts? How do we know for sure if the witnesses are telling the truth?”

    I think that we CAN blame the judicial system for failing to provide adequate legal representation to the poor and non-white defendants who grace its presence. Problems with evidence and credibility of witnesses are reduced when qualified, motivated attorneys are on the case. Defense funds for public defenders often are generally inadequate to provide expert testimony compensation or evidence testing.

    “If we continue with these arguments then we shouldn’t convict anyone, because there is a remote chance that all convictions are faulty in some small meausre.”

    This is another huge logical leap. I don’t think anything I said reflects that I think we should stop convicting people all together. My argument is that we should provide better financing for legal defense to avoid wrongful prosecution.

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