Wrongful Convictions: When Innocent People Serve Prison Time

After serving thirty-six years in prison and being wrongfully convicted of murder, three men from Baltimore were freed from prison in 2019. Andrew Stewart, Alfred Chestnut, and Ransom Watkins were teenagers at the time of their arrest and stood trial for the murder of a middle school student.

The case was revisited after Baltimore’s Conviction Integrity Unit started reviewing previous convictions. It was found that the three were arrested on the basis of witness testimony, and very little other evidence.

Wrongful convictions are not as rare as you may think. According to the National Registry of Exonerations founded in 2012 at Northwestern University School of Law, 2,551 exonerations are on record from 1989 through February 6th, 2020. Judges may try to hand down fair verdicts, but this data proves that the process is not perfect and sometimes, innocent people are imprisoned.

Why Jury Trials Are Sometimes Unjust

The ideology behind jury trials is that a jury of peers will deliver a verdict based on societal norms. It’s assumed that people from similar walks of life will be fair-handed because of the commonality they share with the accused. However, some in the legal community believe jury trials are an overly expensive process of critical decision-making by twelve regular men and women who may not fully understand the law.

Jurors have distractions such as jobs, families, or other responsibilities in addition to potential prejudices formed from exposure to media coverage. At a time in history when television news sensationalizes high-profile criminal cases, is it fair to assume that a juror can be unbiased? It’s nearly impossible for a regular citizen to avoid seeing media, Twitter, or Facebook.

In societies where racial or socioeconomic tensions exist, the lines drawn around dispensing justice become even more blurred. Lawyers and judges do their best to simplify the process, but at the end of the day, the real question is if jurors have the ability to deliver a fair verdict given inherent biases of which they may be unaware.

The Right Defensive Strategy if You’ve Been Accused of a Crime

Hiring a criminal defense lawyer is the best way to protect yourself. Taking into consideration the large number of cases that were wrongfully prosecuted and later led to exonerations, it stands to reason that anyone facing trial needs proper legal defense.

Reasons for having an attorney in your corner are many and varied, depending upon the particulars of your unique case. In general, benefits of representation include the following:

  • Mitigating risk by taking prompt action
  • Damage control
  • Experience developing a pro legal strategy
  • Large staff that can take on important detail work on your behalf
  • Familiarity with the criminal law system
  • Expertise in defending people who have been accused, sometimes wrongfully
  • Protection from heavier penalties that you may receive if you try to defend yourself

Whether guilty or innocent, a lawyer can look for inconsistencies or loopholes that can work in your favor, but this requires experience. Individuals accused of false charges can receive very harsh penalties early in the process from overzealous prosecutors.

If you are innocent and in the unfortunate position of being involved in a high-profile case, it’s preferable to have an independent investigation performed. Then, settlements or negotiations can be made in an effort to avoid trial altogether.

If your best course of action is to plead guilty, your legal team will work toward securing a reasonable and humane punishment. Everybody deserves a fair assessment of their case, and nobody should be prosecuted for a crime they didn’t commit.