Criminal Law

Wrongful Conviction: How can the state undo the harm?

Wrongful conviction is a form of miscarriage of justice. The occurrence of wrongful conviction can be caused due to many different grounds like mistaken identification, false confession, unvalidated forensic science results or official misconduct.

An innocent serving a punishment for a crime he never committed, impacting both his physical and mental health in the process. The harsh reality of our country is that several people have made jail their life-long home because of their wrongful convictions and on top of it they have no access to the appropriate and adequate remedy provided by the justice system to make their condition any better.

Article 14 clause (6) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights obliges countries to have statutory laws for granting reimbursement and reestablishment for someone who has been wrongfully convicted by the State. This provision, which has been implemented by all other countries around the world.

Some common causes of wrongful convictions:

Eyewitness Misidentification
It is the greatest cause of wrongful conviction. Humans are not like tape recorders; They never record events as they see them. witness memory is like evidence at a crime scene. It must be preserved carefully and saved otherwise it can be depraved. An eyewitness has to remember every detail of the suspect.

The process of identification is either through photo identification or by suspect lineup. It is a memory task and an average human brain can recognize 5000 faces. But considering the surrounding where the eyewitness saw the suspect and trauma from the incident, it can lead to mistaken identification.

False Confessions
It refers to cases where innocent defendants make incriminating statements and feels guilty. At the time of Interrogation process confessing will be more important than continue to be innocent. A confession statement is provided by the suspect in which he admits to the crime being committed by him.

Now the question is why would an innocent person confess to a crime he didn’t commit? The answer to the question is misbehaving officers at the time of interrogation of a suspect. It plays a psychological impact on a suspect, depriving him of food and water at the time of interrogation or the factor that the suspect is sleep deprived by the long time duration of the interrogation. Sometimes the officers use third-degree methods to gain a confession.

Forensic Science Problems
Forensic science is a valuable resource, but often forensic practices utilize procedures and approaches that have not been accepted by the scientific community. Unproven forensic science, such as hair and fiber comparison and bite-mark examination, played a part in almost 50% of sentences subsequently reversed with the use of DNA testing, showing that higher requirements for forensic proof needed to be set at court.

Bad lawyering
Some overworked lawyers fail to investigate, call witnesses and given rise to the conviction of innocent people.

How Can State Undo The Harm

There aren’t any compensation schemes or legal mechanisms for the state to be punished for its wrongdoing. There are no specific guidelines to provide relief to the victims of miscarriage of justice. There are numerous opinions, studies and statements on them but the legal books have not included a simple and elucidated clause.

Recommendations in cases of wrongful conviction
• Guiding policies to train and assist service providers in helping victims.
• Offering sensitivity and compassion to victims in a wrongful conviction.
• Accessing information and resources regarding the exoneration process.
• Providing help to victims with Criminal Justice stakeholders and DNA experts.
• Providing access to short and long term counselling and support.
• Compensation which includes pecuniary and non-pecuniary assistance while pecuniary assistance is all about the monetary award as it may be determined by a special court and non- pecuniary assistance will be awarded in the form of services such as counselling, employment skills development and mental health services.