Recently, while in the Law Library, I was reading a paper in the American Law Reports where the author posited that “there is no value to society, victims, or defendant in convicting innocent people.” This prompted a squint of my mind’s eye – an internal reaction of sarcasm of sorts.
If we were living in a perfect world this statement would ring true but we live in a very imperfect world. On the surface, society does benefit from wrongful convictions as do the victims. As far as they are concerned, the defendant was found guilty. The (wrongful) conviction sets in motion a sense of resolution – a gotcha moment and a sense you’re gonna pay or some some semblance thereof. The Jeffrey Deskovic case is an indisputable example where an innocent individual was framed up by authorities for a rape/murder. By all accounts society trumpeted the conviction. Even the authorities, knowingly responsible, for the wrongful conviction took to the public spectrum to laud their own work. While society doesn’t like to admit as much this is reality, not the philosophical vacuum of legal ruminations.
In theory, there are checks along the tiers of the justice system designed to prevent or correct wrongful convictions, but these checks are routinely hacked. History repeatedly informs us wrongful convictions are typically born from some human element of intent not innocuous mistakes. There are sectors who knowingly tilt the scales. These persons do so without compunction and often times with immunity.
To the uninitiated, our justice system is some sort of beacon of right. The past is direct evidence to the contrary. It is wonderful that there are people writing papers espousing justful ideas to correct shortcomings. Unfortunately, most reforms are merely repackaged forms of the status quo. I suspect a part of the reason for this is because substantive reforms would strip power from people, especially those who are most often a common denominator in wrongful convictions.
For the record; following Jeffrey Deskovic’s trial and conviction, all his rightful appeals and claims of innocence were denied. For over sixteen years society mocked and jeered his claims before he was exonerated.