Factors that can lead to wrongful incarceration

There are a variety of factors that can result in the wrongful incarceration of an innocent person.

Although the U.S. judicial system is designed to keep dangerous criminals off of the streets, it may fall short when it comes to giving people fair trials. Not everyone who is currently behind bars in Pennsylvania or anywhere across the country is guilty of committing a crime. A surprising 342 people have been released from prison after further investigation of their case proved that they were actually innocent of the crime they convicted of committing, according to the Innocence Project. What went wrong in those cases? How did an innocent person become incarcerated?

In one case, a 25-year-old Pennsylvania man was wrongfully convicted of rape and as a result, spent 19 years in prison. The man's picture was included in a photographic lineup and was the only picture that had an R marked on it. Even though his features did not match the victim's initial description, the victim chose the man's photo from the lineup. Inconclusive serology testing was also performed. The jury found the innocent man guilty, and he was sentenced to 12 to 26 years in prison. He stayed behind bars maintaining his innocence until DNA evidence finally ruled him out as the perpetrator.

Flaws in the judicial system

There are several ways in which the system created to serve and protect can erroneously send an innocent person to prison. Flaws in the eyewitness lineup process can led to wrongful incarceration, as they did in the case above. At least 70 percent of the cases that were later overturned by extensive DNA testing involved eyewitness misidentification. Not only is there the risk of procedural errors when conducting lineups, but limitations of the human memory also play a role.

Other factors that increase the risk of wrongful incarceration include the following:

  • Informants are given incentives for information.
  • Inexperienced, inadequate and/or negligent legal representation.
  • Government misconduct.
  • False or coerced confessions.

In addition to these factors, a number of scientific tests, including bite mark comparisons, shoe print comparisons and hair microscopy, have not been proved as accurate and reliable tests. Tests that have been deemed scientifically reliable could be conducted by an inexperienced or negligent technician and yield inaccurate results as well.

Protecting your rights

If you have been charged with a crime, you could face a number of penalties, including hefty fines, loss of your driver's license, probation and even jail time. You may feel overwhelmed at the thought of being convicted, and this can affect your ability to make good choices during this hard time. A criminal defense attorney may be an asset to your case. A Pennsylvania lawyer can look at the details of your situation and help to determine the best route of action.