For many people in Virginia, the prospect of a wrongful conviction is very frightening, even if the possibilities seem remote. DNA evidence has confirmed that a number of people convicted of serious crimes like murder and rape actually spent decades behind bars for crimes that they did not commit. In many cases, wrongful conviction cases do not indicate mere mistakes or tragedies that take years of people’s lives away. Instead, misconduct or abuse by police and prosecutors are often a major part of these cases. Witnesses may be coerced or badgered into providing inaccurate testimony and evidence may even be planted in some cases.
A study examining cases of wrongful conviction found that the problem goes deeper than individual corruption or misconduct, however. Even police and prosecutors who believed themselves to be acting ethically and honestly have been involved in these cases. Confirmation bias can lead law enforcement to focus on a particular suspect even when the evidence isn’t clear. In addition, there can be heavy pressure to quickly identify, arrest, try, and convict a suspect. This can lead to rushed, flawed investigations and the resulting miscarriages of justice seen in wrongful conviction cases.
Police often develop “tunnel vision” if they believe they have identified a perpetrator. As a result, they may ignore evidence and testimony that points to a different story of the crime. They may even develop new narratives in the case of exculpatory evidence rather than looking for a new suspect and starting the investigation again.
Experts advise a number of training and supervision policies to reduce the risk of wrongful conviction, but people continue to face police misconduct and abuse, despite the rise of new technologies. A lawyer can work with people facing criminal charges to present a strong defense and aim to prevent a conviction.