The criminal justice system is far from perfect. As a result, even when an innocent individual has mounted a convincing criminal defense, he or she still may be convicted. Thankfully, advances in DNA evidentiary analysis has made it possible for roughly 300 innocent individuals to be exonerated of their criminal convictions. Unfortunately, the devastation that wrongful convictions cause cannot be erased by exoneration alone.
It is not hard to imagine the ways that wrongful imprisonment affects those who have been wrongfully convicted. The same is true for the family members and loved ones of these individuals. However, it is important to remember that wrongful convictions affect others as well. The victims, their families and loved ones, the judge presiding over a wrongful conviction case, attorneys and the jurors involved in the case can all bear scars related to wrongful conviction.
National Public Radio recently aired a story about how jurors involved in these cases are impacted by them. The reporter profiled the story of two jurors involved in the allegedly wrongful conviction of a teenager in 1981. The teen was charged and convicted of murder and was imprisoned for over 25 years as a result.
These jurors are now convinced of the then-young man’s innocence and are helping him in his fight to obtain a certificate of legal innocence. This certificate would aid him in obtaining compensation for his imprisonment.
The NPR story of the man’s allegedly wrongful conviction is compelling. But what makes the story even more dynamic is the theme it promotes: when the justice system fails the accused, it also fails everyone that the case touches. As DNA evidence leads to more and more exonerations, the fact that justice has eventually been done should be celebrated. However, we as a society should take these cases as proof positive that the system should be reformed in a way that keeps innocent individuals out of prison in the first place, period.
Source: NPR, “What Happens After Jurors Get It Wrong?” Carrie Johnson, Oct. 22, 2012