Human Error Blamed For Wrongful Convictions

A study of wrongful convictions in New York cites human error as a leading cause of mistaken guilty verdicts.

It determined that the root causes of the convictions included errors by a prosecutor, judge or member of law enforcement, as well as the misidentification of the accused by victims or witnesses. The mishandling of forensic evidence and a reliance on false confessions from the accused or false testimony from jailhouse informants were also to blame.

Some of the examples cited in the linked article go well beyond "human error." When the police or prosecutors withhold evidence that casts doubt on a defendant's guilt, their willful misconduct isn't a simple mistake. False confessions usually result from deliberately coercive interrogations. A refusal to be fair in the investigation and prosecution of crime isn't just error -- it's malicious, or reckless at best.

< Super Bowl | Bruce! >
  • The Online Magazine with Liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news

  • Contribute To TalkLeft

  • Display: Sort:
    Worse than Mistakes (none / 0) (#1)
    by womanwarrior on Sun Feb 01, 2009 at 08:01:43 PM EST
    Thanks for sharing this, TChris.  Too bad the Appeals Courts refuse to enforce the rules so many times.  Will we ever get back to the days when prosecutors were told that their job was to do justice, and not just get convictions?  I remember prosecutors who used to act on that.  It seems a long time ago. Maybe I will get it into a footnote in my next appeal.  

    Yes. The police (none / 0) (#2)
    by JamesTX on Sun Feb 01, 2009 at 09:28:30 PM EST
    and prosecutor's get away with many things "on accident" that look downright malicious to anyone paying attention. When the courts don't question the "on accident" excuse, the message to law enforcement is "go for it!", and they do!

    first sentence? (none / 0) (#3)
    by diogenes on Sun Feb 01, 2009 at 10:24:21 PM EST
    The study says that many of the cases were the result of human error and others were multifactorial.  It does not purport to say that all wrongful convictions are due to human error.

    no, it's a crime in and of itself. (none / 0) (#4)
    by cpinva on Sun Feb 01, 2009 at 11:34:35 PM EST
    their willful misconduct isn't a simple mistake.

    and yet, only in the rarest of circumstances are these perpetrators arrested, charged, indicted and tried. usually only as a consequence of major media exposure. because, of course, the police are "special", not to be confused with us ordinary folk.

    if police refuse to do their job, because they are held to account for their actions, there's a simple expedient: fire them.

    if the police unions want to be publicised as protecting their corrupt brothers, then let them bear the brunt of that. i expect after a few such cases are exposed, they'll be less enthusiastic.

    however, this thought process begins at the top, and does "trickle down"; from the supreme court on down to the local precinct house, the police are essentially told, "do whatever you want, we'll protect you."

    it should come as no surprise then, that the police believe themselves immune from the very laws they are sworn to uphold.

    Of course, there (none / 0) (#5)
    by eric on Mon Feb 02, 2009 at 06:51:26 AM EST
    is always the error that the jury made.  I know, we shouldn't blame them because they do the best with what is presented to them...

    But I see juries as siding too much with the state and not being skeptical enough of what they are told.  Many people simply don't appreciate the errors and misconduct and are too willing to convict.  So yes, I think that is an error, too.

    in fairness to juries, (none / 0) (#6)
    by cpinva on Mon Feb 02, 2009 at 08:15:00 AM EST
    But I see juries as siding too much with the state and not being skeptical enough of what they are told.

    they can only work with what they're given, in testimony and evidence. they don't have the option of deciding, on their own, that a given "expert's" testimony is wrong, for example. that's the job of the defense atty., in their cross-examination.

    that said, a juror can decide that the testimony and evidence, even though accepted as factual, isn't sufficient to overcome the bar of "reasonable doubt". unfortunately, i suspect (i'm not an atty., and i don't play one on tv. i also didn't stay at a hotel last night.), neither the judges or defense atty's are stressing that fact.

    being realistic, most jury trials aren't going to end up on court tv. they aren't very exciting, and most of the juror's really just want to get it over with and go home. they probably also go in with the subconscious feeling that "gee, if the person wasn't guilty, the police wouldn't have arrested them to begin with."

    not fair to the defendent, but most likely true. again, it's the defense atty's job to raise that issue, and stomp it down.

    I think we do have (none / 0) (#7)
    by JamesTX on Tue Feb 03, 2009 at 10:51:42 AM EST
    a jury problem, and it goes beyond juries simply getting biased and selective information. The goal and overall end result of the conservative movement is a sort of default deference to authority. People are much more reluctant to question authority than they used to be. And they certainly think twice about questioning the authority of anyone remotely associated with the police or prosecutors. That kind of speech has essentially been eradicated by the conservative movement. The bottom line is that juries are afraid to rebuke prosecutors and disagree with police statements. They rightfully believe doing so places them in harm's way, and so they rationalize their compliance by developing a sort of identification with authority. It is similar to the Stockholm syndrome. The idea of saying a police officer or a prosecutor is wrong, and saying it publicly, is frightening. Most people don't want to take the risk, if it is not their skin on the line.