The integrity of the criminal justice system is primarily determined by its competence and fairness. Its competence is measured by its ability to investigate and detect crime, identify criminals, and impose appropriate punishments on those convicted of crimes. Wrongful convictions jeopardize the integrity of the criminal justice system. If a person is wrongfully convicted, he or she is punished for an offense that he or she did not commit, but the true perpetrator of the crime is not punished. So wrongful convictions also harm the public since imprisoning an innocent person allows the true perpetrator to go free. In addition, when unjust convictions are discovered, public trust in the system decreases. Condemning the innocent defies justice, depriving men and women of dignity, relationships, time, opportunity, and freedom.

The criminal justice system is founded on the fundamental legal principle that an accused person is deemed innocent until conviction following a trial. This runs counter to the public’s belief that the vast majorities of people accused with criminal offenses are, and will be found to be, guilty. Wrongful convictions undercut both this fundamental legal principle and this public expectation because they demonstrate that the presumption of innocence can be maintained even when it is violated and that the justice system does not simply deal with the guilty. The tragedy of wrongful convictions is caused by a number of circumstances. The great majority of cases involve eyewitness mis-identifications as a result of inadequate crime scene visibility and poor police conduct. Every wrongful conviction exemplifies a unique set of flaws in the criminal justice system that has stopped it from functioning properly and fairly. Because wrongful conviction results reflect a fundamental undermining of the integrity of the criminal justice system, the mechanisms designed for reviewing such cases are exceptional in nature and are hardly found useful. To do differently would be to call the criminal justice system’s legitimacy into doubt and, by drawing attention to its flaws, to destroy public trust.

Immediate action should be made to ensure that no more men and women are wrongfully imprisoned. To improve the accuracy of witness identifications, police personnel conducting lineups should be knowledgeable of the suspect’s identity so as not to impact witnesses’ decisions, should ask witnesses to evaluate their confidence in their identifications, and should film the entire procedure. Confessions from defendants should also be filmed. This safeguard against coercion by authorities attempting to show guilt. Only the most advanced forensic science procedures should be employed to determine guilt. Prosecutors should be trained in ethical principles as well as the grounds of wrongful convictions. States should keep teams of skilled defense lawyers on hand who can dedicate the necessary time to each accused. Furthermore, all states should pass compensation statutes that offer adequate money for defendants to rebuild their lives. No matter what changes are implemented, the reconsideration of convictions will always be an exceptional event; an effective method of carrying out this duty will increase the effectiveness and integrity of the criminal justice system. It has the potential to lessen the likelihood of wrongful convictions while also improving the integrity of our justice system.

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