Our Voices

Wrongful Convictions: The Facts

A wrongful conviction is when a person is convicted of a crime they did not commit. Wrongful convictions are often the result of multiple failures— usually by investigators, witnesses, scientists, and lawyers— that can occur at various stages of the criminal justice process. Convictions are typically considered wrongful for one of two reasons: the person is factually innocent of the charges brought against them (which is why wrongful convictions are often known as cases of “actual innocence”), or the individual’s case involved procedural errors that violated their rights.

Wrongful convictions are often attributed to five common causes:

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Coronavirus and Prisons: A Deadly Combination

The COVID-19 virus has spread like wildfire throughout the globe, causing mass hysteria and a rise in anxiety. In an effort to slow the spread of the virus, schools have been closed, sporting events have been cancelled, beaches have been closed, and even entire cities have been locked down. But what do the people who are already in lockdown in prison do?

Many people think that prisons and jails would be safe places to combat the COVID-19 virus because they appear to be closed environments. However, correctional officers, medical staff, and visitors come in and out of these facilities everyday. Prisoners also travel to different prisons if they are transferred, go to court, or go to medical appointments. There are several opportunities for the virus to make its way into a prison, and once it is there, it could be hard to contain.

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The Price of Poverty: How Poverty Impacts Criminal Justice

Picture this: You’re a college student at a local community college working part time as a secretary in your school’s financial aid office. On your way home from class you smoke a cigarette, then toss it out of your car window into the empty left lane. A police officer happens to be rolling up behind you and catches you flicking the cigarette out of the window. The officer then pulls you over and gives you a littering ticket—a charge that could range from $100 to $1,000 in West Virginia

For another person who doesn’t have school costs, living expenses and a low wage, this penalty may be affordable, but for you, coming up with the couple hundred dollars is going to be near impossible. 

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The US Public Defender Crisis

It’s 1961 in Panama City, Florida. Clarence Earl Gideon is charged with breaking and entering, but he can’t afford a lawyer. After requesting a court-appointed attorney, Gideon is denied on the grounds that there’s no threat of a death sentence. Gideon, without the representation of an attorney, was eventually convicted and sentenced to five years in prison.

In 1963 the U.S. Supreme Court overturned his conviction unanimously finding that Gideon’s right to counsel wasn’t granted. Gideon v. Wainwright of 1963 didn’t just determine that defendants have a right to court-appointed attorneys, but the decision mandated states provide a defense attorney for any indigent clients facing felony charges.

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