This site is devoted to increasing public awareness of police misconduct and detainee abuse in addition to providing support for victims of police misconduct and detainee abuse. If you or someone you know have witnessed abuse or have been abused, please let us know.


This site is an archive of older content.

Please feel free to visit our new effort at

Thank you for visiting.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Paying A Painful Price For Wrongful Convictions

While reading details about yet another exoneration of an innocent person who was wrongfully convicted at The Agitator, I had a bit of a flashback. I was back at my fourth week in jail, where I was sent based on false charges and testimony, and I was laying in my bunk watching a movie on the television in a cell that held about 18 people. The cells we were held in were common rooms, just a series of bunks in a large area and no separate rooms or anything, so there was no privacy of any sort and only one television, so I tended to watch whatever was put on when I did bother to watch it. At the time things were looking pretty bleak, I was still stuck with a public defender who refused to listen when I insisted on my innocence and persisted in telling everyone I should plead guilty or face 18 years of prison for a crime I didn’t commit.

The movie on at this time was “The Hurricane” and if you haven’t ever seen the film it’s the story of Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, a boxer who was wrongfully imprisoned for murder but eventually exonerated after 22 long years of struggle to prove his innocence. It’s a very powerful film and I highly suggest it, (as well as his book, "The 16th Round")… but at the time it was painful for me to watch because all I could do is wonder if this was going to be me, sitting in prison away from my family for something I never did. It was so painful, in fact, that I cried… something that isn’t really a good idea to do in front of a bunch of people sitting in a jail cell with you, some of which had just finished ruthlessly beating another prisoner and weren’t happy with me when I unsuccessfully tried to stop it and get a guard’s attention.

In the end, I was lucky, I wasn’t convicted… but how close I came to being convicted is something that will leave me changed forever because I never really realized just how easy it was to be wrongfully imprisoned… and if you knew what I knew, you would be frightened by how easy it really is. If it weren’t for the video tape that proved I didn’t do anything wrong, the police detective in charge of the case said, he had no doubt that I would be sent to prison for a very long time and the prosecutor agreed. I later learned that the venue where the tape was taken had tried to destroy it out of fear of a lawsuit over how they encouraged patrons to attack me that night, if they would have succeeded I wouldn’t be here typing today. I was lucky that it existed, that it wasn’t destroyed, and that the detective and prosecutor were ethical enough to reveal it’s existence and acknowledge my innocence… usually, it doesn’t work that way.

According to The Innocence Project, eyewitness misidentification is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions nationwide, playing a role in more than 75% of convictions overturned through DNA testing. While eyewitness testimony can be persuasive evidence before a judge or jury, 30 years of strong social science research has proven that eyewitness identification is often unreliable. Research shows that the human mind is not like a tape recorder; we neither record events exactly as we see them, nor recall them like a tape that has been rewound. Instead, witness memory is like any other evidence at a crime scene; it must be preserved carefully and retrieved methodically, or it can be contaminated.

While the story that led me to remember that painful time in my life when just about all hope had left me and while it does give me hope for the many who languish behind bars who don’t belong there because of DNA testing… in most cases of eyewitness-based convictions, there is no DNA evidence available to clear anyone… just as there wouldn’t have been in my case as well. For them, it seems, there is little hope… and the cost in human terms is difficult to describe to someone who hasn’t lived it, and it is a cost too high for a society to morally sustain because the pain and suffering inflicted by wrongful accusations and convictions is beyond description, and a crime against the victims of such miscarriages of justice. If two months of being punished for something I never did is more painful than I can describe, I could hardly imagine nor describe what years of that kind of torture would do to a person.

The Innocence Project does give us some hope as it is working towards convincing state governments to implement reforms that would reduce the number of wrongful convictions based on faulty eyewitness testimony. Unfortunately, few states are listening, including Washington state. Washington has a dismal record for implementing reforms to prevent and address wrongful convictions and exonerations. Hopefully, we can educate enough people about the perils of wrongful convictions and convince them that this is a problem that can affect them… much more easily than they know… much more easily than I ever knew too.

No comments:

Clicky Web Analytics