Wrongful convictions and Death Penalty

Wrongful convictions are challenges that many judicial sectors in different countries in the world have to face sometimes during the course of duty execution. it is the onus of the judicial system to protect and preserve the rights of citizens and individuals in a particular country. This being so, every wrong conviction by this system leads to a thorough undermining of  the confidence of the citizens in the system and they question its capability of protecting their rights. It is estimates that 6000 people were put on death row between 1977 and 1999. 80 of those people have since been found to be innocent. That means 1 in 75 people are known to have been wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death. Millions of people all over the world, men and women are lying in prisons serving time for a crime that they did not commit.  

Even though many people believe that the justice system is almost foolproof, there still is room for errors. This margin of error could sometimes be disastrous, especially in countries that have still upheld the capital punishment. USA is one such country. Wrongful convictions that result into the death penalty are always a dread of the justice system in this country. The system is designed in such a way that should not allow any innocent person to suffer in any way. But sometimes these wrongful convictions still occur. Whether this is supposed to be blamed on the occupational flaws in these institutional is debatable.

This paper illuminates this concept of wrongful convictions by defining the circumstances under which such a wrongful conviction occurs. It will also give an outlook  at the compensation packages that the system offers these victims.

Wrongful convictions: definition

By definition, a wrongful conviction implies that a person has been convicted of a particular crime by the jury and sentenced to either time in prison or given the death penalty. (Hoel, 2008). According to the Bill of Rights, a person is “innocent until proven guilty” in order to ensure all citizen’s rights to fair trial. Law should treat a suspect as being innocent until proven guilty. However, some people are still branded as being guilty even if they are actually innocent.  Wrongful convictions occur on a number of levels as shall be discussed below.

Levels of wrongful convictions

A number of researchers and authors specializing in this field of law have discovered a number of circumstances under which a wrongful conviction can be said to have occurred. In the judicial, court and law system that exists in the world today, the levels of wrongful convictions are broken down into a number of circumstances as discussed in the following paragraphs.

It culminates into wrongful conviction where a particular person is arrested and detained by law enforcement agency and then afterwards released without being charged for a particular crime. This person has the rights to seek compensation on the grounds of wrongful conviction (Griffith & Roth, 2006).

Another wrongful conviction may be identified in the situation where a person may be arrested, detained for a certain amount of time, charged for a particular crime and then released without being tried. Compensation may be sought on the basis of duress and distress caused as well as the economic loss during the detention time.

Hoel(2008) argues that it also surmounts to wrongful conviction in the case where a person may be arrested, detained for a certain amount of time, charged for a particular crime, tried and acquitted but still denied bail. This person has the grounds to seek compensation from the state for wrongful conviction.

Another level of wrongful conviction is observed arrest is made, detained for a certain amount of time, charged, tried, convicted but later the conviction is done away with on appeal. Such a person may decide to claim compensation for the distress he or she has undergone during this whole trial process and detainment for a crime that he or she did not commit.

According to Huff et al (1986), it also constitutes a wrongful conviction if a person is arrested, detained, tried and convicted after exhaustion of all appeals for a particular period of time and then later released after an extraordinary appeal or in some manner proven that he or she did not commit the crime, pardoned or released without a retrial. This person is free to seek financial compensation from the state for the distress he or she went through during this period. The amount of compensation depends on the magnitude of the sentence meted out wrongfully. The more the number of years that a person has spent serving in prison or detention after being wrongly convicted, the higher the level of compensation that this person is liable to be given.

the death sentence is the highest conviction that can result from a wrongful conviction. When a person is wrongfully convicted and the capital punishment issued to him or her, and then later it comes to light that the person had been innocent, there is no measure to the amount of distress, duress and pain that the next of kin of that person has gone through (Huff et al, 1986).

This leads into the curiosity of wanting to know exactly why this occurs and who is to blame for this mishap. This is outlined in the following discourse.

Causes for wrongful convictions

Furman (2003) and Roman et al (2012) stipulate that the inefficiency of judicial system is more often the institutional to blame most for wrongful convictions. Cases are hurried about to clear the backlogs and sentences are given without the proper illumination of the case being tested. More often than not, this results into the judges and other players in this sector becoming biased.

Another avenue for the base of wrongful convictions would be the law enforcement agencies. It is the duty of the police and other law enforcement officers to investigate and arrest persons they have determined that they have committed a particular crime. In the process of investigations, they are supposed to maintain an open mind and collect, log and analyze critically all the evidence that they collect to make sure that they are certain that the suspect they have was the one who committed the crime that he or she is accused of. Adherence to this will ensure that wrongful conviction cases are mitigated.

Eye witness identifications of the suspects by the witnesses should be closely monitored to make sure that the witness tells the truth and that he or she has no ulterior motives on the suspect. Witness recount is one of the widely used strategies to convict people in the world today. As such, these witnesses should be well screened to ensure that they speak the truth so that they avoid the complications arising from a wrongful conviction. Witnesses, especially after experiencing shocking incident, can get their memories altered through what they have seen and heard. Even though it is not intentional, this could play a major role in one person getting wrongfully convicted.

False confessions are punishable by law and these witnesses should be made to full understand this before they offer their testimonies. There have been numerous cases where witness makes false confession in prison in order to reduce his serving in prison.

Other causes, though not very common are unreliable and unscientific laboratory tests. Sometimes a particular crime such as rape may require the forensic expert of physician to conduct some laboratory tests on the specimen. In most cases, these laboratory technicians are informed of the expected results of the experiment. As such, even if there is a slight change in the laboratory results, these technicians tend to doctor these reports so that they can rhyme with the expected results. In the past when forensic science was not advanced like today, scientists could not test some of the evidences. But with today’s technology, many people got exonerated based on newly tested DNA tests.

Inadequate legal representation is also another cause of wrongful convictions. In the situations where a person is not in capacity to afford the services of an attorney of law, the state  will provide one lawyer to represent the person free of charge. these lawyers are often overburdened with work and they might not be capable in offering their clients the best legal representation.

Corruption in the justice system as well as the law enforcement sectors and agencies could also be one of the causes of wrongful convictions in many countries. Corruption disrupts the course of justice by making sure that the true information is hidden away, the witnesses are coerced to give false testimonials or distort the testimony altogether. The failure of the victim to be able to talk for himself in front of a jury also translates to the jury judging him or her wrongly.

Compensation for wrongful conviction

In countries where they have adopted the concept of compensating the people who have been wrongly convicted, the levels of compensation in form of financial aid as well as other packages is very varied. As aforementioned, the magnitude of this compensation determines the particular amount of compensation that one should be awarded by the state. The higher the level of conviction, the higher the compensation offered and vice versa.

the highest compensation package is given for wrongful convictions resulting into death penalties contrasted to the other forms of wrongful convictions. the policies of the state in which this person was tried and convicted in and the amount of time the person has spent behind bars as he or she awaits execution is also a determinant factor. A legislative body is appointed to decide exactly how much financial compensation that a person who has been wrongly convicted is to be awarded. Then this body makes the suggestions and comes up with a figure. The suggestions are then passed onto a higher body for approval. Once the approval has been made, the person is duly compensated for his or her troubles.

If a person is proven that he/she had been wrongfully convicted and served time behind bars, financial compensation is usually large because it is impossible to compensate for lost time behind the bars. However, since proving that a person is wrongfully convicted is difficult and time consuming, the large portion of compensation that he recive would have to go to lawyers and private detectives.

Solutions to this challenge of wrongful conviction

The undesirable nature of a wrongful conviction makes many justice systems shy away from giving the death sentence for a crime. Most prefer giving the life sentence. This is done as a cushion to ensure that the verdict would not come to haunt them at a later date in the future. Wrongful conviction resulting into a death sentence is very undesirable., as such, justice systems all over the world have tried to employ strategies and models to ensure that this challenge of wrongful conviction on all levels is taken care of once and for all. Some of these solutions are given in the following discourse.

The promotion of a transparent and corruption –free judicial system is one of these strategies. Judges as well as the jury are impermeable to bribes. This has made it possible for them to execute their duties efficiently and give verdicts that are not biased or borne out of other goal. Giving verdicts by solely examining the facts placed on the table without bias is instrumental in the minimization of wrongful convictions cases.

The witnesses are also shielded away from the public and from anyone who could in one way or the other threaten, bribe or even outright eliminate them. Witness protection program has been initiated and safe houses are acquired for this purpose. The witnesses are given time to concentrate on their side of testimony without being exposed to outside influences that may make them change their mind about testifying or force them to distort their testimony. The eye witnesses are screened over and over to ensure that the person they identify in a line up is the actual people whom she or he saw commit a crime.


From the above discussion, it has been observed that wrongful convictions only result into a loss of time, energy and even resources. Even with the advancement of technology to encompass the DNA factor, wrongful convictions still occurs but not on a rampant scale as they used to before. The death sentence delivered through a wrongful conviction is a very painful thing to the next of kin because they are not capable of bringing their beloved back no matter what kind of compensation they receive from the system. Due to this, many countries have abolished the capital punishment and those who haven’t are being pushed to follow suit.

It has been found here that compensation for wrongful conviction; though it does not reverse matters serves as a very vital component to assist these people get back onto their feet again. The death matter is another case scenario altogether.

This paper concludes by stating that even though the death penalty can be compensated, the financial compensation can never match the distress and the pain that the next of kin of the deceased go through every day knowing that their beloved was killed out of a wrongful conviction.

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