America’s Wrongfully Convicted: The Causes and Effect

Thousands of people have been wrongly convicted across the country in a system defined by official indifference to innocence and error. A major factor in wrongful convictions is official indifference to innocence and error. Counties, states, and the federal government all have different rules and policies about preserving evidence and providing access to testing that could prove an incarcerated person’s innocence. Even when incarcerated people manage to get evidence that proves their innocence, police, and prosecutors often refuse to re-examine the evidence or re-open the case.

Police, prosecutors, and judges are not held accountable for misconduct that leads to wrongful convictions, such as fabricating evidence, presenting false testimony, or refusing to consider proof of innocence. Immunity laws protect them from liability even in cases of gross misconduct. Prosecutors can’t be held liable for falsifying evidence, coercing witnesses, presenting false testimony, withholding evidence, or introducing illegally-seized evidence at trial.

Some prosecutors have set up Conviction Integrity Units, also known as Conviction Review Units – a section of the prosecutor’s office that seeks to prevent, identify, and remedy false convictions. Unlike teams assigned to review individual cases or a series of questionable convictions, CIUs are designed to operate indefinitely and have a dedicated staff.

Only 45 out of more than 2,300 prosecutor’s offices nationwide have a CIU. And while CIUs helped secure 40% of exonerations reported in 2018, their impact varies dramatically. Just four CIUs account for 85% of all CIU exonerations, and nine have been in operation for at least three years without producing a single exoneration.

Equal Justice Initiative
The National Registry of Exonerations

Convicted Innocence Cases/Stories
“Ex-prosecutor disbarred after wrongful convictions in Texas”
“Diane Jones was wrongly convicted of drug trafficking and sentenced to life in prison without parole. EJI won her release in 2006.”
Rubin Carter
“Walter McMillian was sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit.”