According to the National Registry of Exonerations, more than half of wrongful convictions involved official misconduct and/or negligence from police or prosecutors.
CIUs, a division of a prosecutorial office that works to prevent, identify, and remedy false convictions, have the power to address one of the leading causes of wrongful incarcerations: official misconduct. Of 151 exonerations in 2018, official misconduct was present in 107 cases. The power of a prosecutor seeking to fix a wrongful conviction is undeniable - CIUs have access to case files and evidence unavailable to innocence organizations and the defense. As a result, CIUs were responsible for 58 exonerations in 2018. While the number of CIUs is growing, the 44 CIUs in existence only serve 23% of the U.S. population.
Some wrongful convictions are caused by honest mistakes. But in far too many cases, the very people who are responsible for ensuring truth and justice — law enforcement officials and prosecutors — lose sight of these obligations and instead focus solely on securing convictions. The cases of wrongful convictions are filled with evidence of negligence, fraud, or misconduct by prosecutors or police departments.
While most law enforcement officers and prosecutors are honest and trustworthy, criminal justice is a human endeavor and the possibility for negligence, misconduct, and corruption exists.
Researchers have found that in wrongful conviction cases that were overturned based on new DNA evidence, prosecutorial misconduct was a factor in 36–42% of the convictions.
Tragically, prosecutors and law enforcement face little, if any, consequences for their actions. Prosecutors have “full immunity” from misconduct claims. And the standard to receive money damages for misconduct on the part of law enforcement and other state actors is incredibly high. Only one prosecutor has served time for his role in sending an innocent man to prison, and he served just 10 days.
THE RESPONSIBILITY OF
TRUTH AND JUSTICE
Common forms of misconduct by law enforcement include:
making suggestions when conducting identification procedures
coercing false confessions
lying or intentionally misleading jurors about their observations
failing to turn over exculpatory evidence to prosecutors
providing incentives to secure unreliable evidence from informants
Common forms of misconduct by prosecutors include:
withholding exculpatory evidence from defense
deliberately mishandling, mistreating, or destroying evidence
allowing witnesses they know or should know are not truthful to testify
pressuring defense witnesses not to testify
relying on fraudulent forensic experts
making misleading arguments that overstate the probative value of testimony
What Can You Do to Help?
As a believer in justice and fairness within our legal system, please support the funding, crucial work, and oversight of county Conviction Integrity Units. CIUs are critical guardrails against wrongful conviction in our communities.
Does your county have a Conviction Integrity Unit? If not, contact your prosecutor and voice your support for critical guardrails against wrongful convictions.
If your county does have a CIU, what kind of work have they done? Do they release their findings? Who’s in charge, and what’s the process like for someone incarcerated to have their case reviewed? Push for answers to these questions from your elected officials.