Tag Archives: judicial system

Discouraging Misguided Perceptions…

Fact: An open mind is a terrible thing to discourage. But this happens frequently in the never ending quest for uniformity. Hence my frustration over how little education or interest is out there about wrongful convictions. Despite constant reminders through exonerations which have become wrinkles within the fabric of our judicial system, acknowleging the scope of their occurance remains obscure. For many in the legal system, the underlying issue is pride and an inability to admit that mistakes have been made. But just as ignorance creates the potential for more of the same, we are still goaded into traditionalism despite the consequences.

Fact: Bias drives societal standards. But bias permeates society so there’s no getting around this. Therefore I seize every chance to educate and hopefully provoke an objective and diverse viewpoint. During a recent conversation with a local Minneapolis reporter with no knowledge of wrongful convictions or the Innocence Project, I stated my belief that the authorities get it right the majority of the time but that there is plenty of evidence to prove that mistakes do happen. Taking a reasonable stance piqued her interest and she expressed a desire to research the topic further. She stated, “I look forward to hearing more about the Innocence Project and will keep my eyes peeled/eyes open”. I expressed dismay over the unsatisfactory level of reporting the topic currently receives. “These exonerated people are real heroes living among us and we pay so little attention to them,” I had said.

In another encounter I shared this thought, “My determination in bringing awareness to this issue [of wrongful convictions] is due partly to the lack of attention it receives overall because of the perception that it only involves a small majority. I am committed to unveiling the misguidance of that perception”. But to be fair I too was once every bit as ignorant to the topic.

Fact: There have been close to 2,000 exonerations across the US since 1989. A small number of victims in all of that time right? WRONG when you include into that equation the number of family members, close friends and acquaintances, also severely affected. We cannot count the myriad of cases currently up for review that have not been through the courts yet or the vast number of inmates whose cases may never be re-examined. None of those numbers can be included in the latest findings. Even the National Registry of Exonerations admittedly reports that their list is deficient of the total number of exonerations overall.

Fact: Perceptions can be misleading.This year alone has seen approximately 81 exonerations nationwide with a total of 100 reportedly projected to occur by year’s end, according to the Registry. That translates to an average of 2 per week! Very good news but it also suggests the notion that this problem is much worse than previously thought! I envision that as scientific improvements continue, coupled with additional research into previous flawed practices, like eye witness identification which makes up a high precentage of faulty convictions, this number will increase over time. Encouraging news for the wrongly accused, but discouraging for those of us who place much trust in the system.

Let’s Be Truthful About a Fallacy…

Test your knowledge…

 1. How many exonerations have there been since 1989?

 2. How many exonerations were there in 2013? 

 3. How many DNA exonerations since 1989?

 4. Which state has had the most exonerations since 1989?

 5. How many exonerations came from that state?  

Start a Conversation…

  1. Have you ever been aware of the existence of wrongful convictions before now?   

As you can see, I purposely redirected the aim of my questions. After some thought I decided they are irrelevant if there is no understanding of the issue to begin with. I ponder the new question which begs for answers every time I write a letter to a wrongfully convicted person. I’ve been told by some of these people that although they did not feel they were very nice before this happened, they were never concerned about going to prison for a crime they didn’t commit. They trusted the system like everyone else and before they’d become one of its victims, would’ve replied with a resounding “no” to the question at hand.

What surprised me is that some of them have truthfully admitted that if they had not been the one targeted, they would more than likely have been among those eager to believe that whoever was, probably did commit the crime. But because of what has happened to them, they now see things as they truly are.

Since I started asking that question about wrongful convictions five years ago I’ve a pretty good grasp on what the majority of people will answer. Still, for your sake, I’d like you to think about asking a few of your friends. Get a conversation going about your knowledge of this country’s flawed system. Then decide if you can understand why wrongful convictions have happened repeatedly in our society for decades. I’ll be honest; I was clueless about it. I thought that everyone in prison must be guilty. I never thought about whether or not the authorities might make a mistake. I trusted that the truth prevails and that we are all safer as a result.

Now, I’m sure my knowledge has caused scepticism, cynicism and bias that leans heavily toward error on the part of the authorities. I cannot watch a crime news story without extreme scrutiny and it drives me crazy to see the faces of the accused plastered all over the news before charges have even been filed. What I’ve decided I must do is to look at the facts first and reserve judgment for later…period. I wonder how many of us wait until all of the information has been disclosed before our verdicts are in.