Many Wrongful Convictions: Not So Many Answers
Recent studies have estimated that between 2.3% and 5% of all prisoners in the United States are factually innocent. According to the Innocence Project, if just 1% of all prisoners were innocent, that would mean that more than 20,000 innocent people are currently in prison. Of course, one would assume that such staggering numbers would prompt some type of national examination to determine why the criminal justice system is continually breaking down. At the very least, the continued unveiling of wrongful convictions nationwide must lead to some type of reform that would prevent future injustices from occurring. Unfortunately, the Criminal Justice system has failed miserably in its attempts to deal with these issues, despite its realization that wrongful convictions continue to occur. As Professor Bennett L. Gershman of Pace Law School recently noted
there is hardly ever a postmortem of a derailment in the criminal justice system, as there typically is when a train derails, or a plane crashes.
Professor Gershman’s editorial, Don’t Let the Prosecutor Off the Hook, discusses how the justice system has simply forgotten to undertake its duty to determine the causes behind this tragic epidemic that has continually plagued our justice system. Citing the recent exoneration of Jonathan Fleming, who had spent 24 years in prison for a murder that he did not commit, Professor Gershman explained
Nobody, certainly nobody in the media, has attempted to examine this case more closely and to ask probing questions about how this human tragedy could have happened? We don’t investigate how criminal cases miscarried. We don’t investigate how the system malfunctioned. And we don’t investigate those officials who caused the malfunction.
Evidently, there are probably thousands of cases in which an innocent person has been convicted. Yet, the process of finding answers or solutions to the systemic flaws causing wrongful convictions has been a snail’s race. As Professor Gershman implicitly points out, however, the prospect of finding a solution is undermined by society’s passive approach to the problem. Moreover, the likelihood of successfully confronting this important issue can never be truly realized until the wrongdoers are actually held accountable for their actions and no longer allowed “off the hook.” Of course, as Prof. Gershman notes, the first step will be to simply “ask probing questions about how this human tragedy could have happened?”
- Bennett L. Gershman, Don’t Let the Prosecutor Off the Hook, HuffPost (April 10, 2014).