One summer a few years back, my sister and I met some new people at the beach. One of our newfound friends mistook her for me. Those who know us well find our features to be somewhat similar, but have never had a single problem differentiating the two of us. The point of this story is to point out that mistaken identity is not always something you can fix with a chuckle and reminder. To some it means the difference between a life altering accusation and the truth, existing as the number one cause of wrongful crime convictions.
The thought of this occurring seems unlikely, which it is, but not improbable. How could someone be falsely accused of committing a crime they did not take any part in? Surely if a case has gone far enough to convict a person or persons, they must have had some affiliation in the incident that occurred. Or did they? As unbelievable as it may seem, people have been known to falsely admit to crimes they did not commit. Assumptions as to how this may happen lie in issues related to suggestion and intense interrogation from the police. If there are other persons involved in a particular case, the false confession of a co-defendant can sometimes be used for the affiliated party. As previously mentioned, the incorrect identification from a witness is the most prominent issue. It is not uncommon for a victim or witness to feel that they must pick someone from a line up, confident that the person with the most similar characteristics must be the perpetrator they are looking for.
It becomes even more disappointing with the realization that certain situations could have been prevented and that others may be working against them. Behavior such as neglecting to pursue alternative suspects and the lack of efficient counsel play a huge role in the result of the case of the defendant, as was the case with a Grand Rapids man who was just released after serving 13 years for a murder he did not commit. Photographs not presented at trial, as well as a suggested suspect who was not looked into, ultimately inhibited him.
The occurrence of wrongful convictions becomes much more serious when it involves those who have been sentenced to death. Of the 50 states, only 12 do not have the death penalty, including Michigan. Human biology junior, Joe Griffith, supports the standpoint that Michigan holds regarding this issue. “Under any circumstance, I do not think that taking someone’s life is a necessary form of punishment,” he said. The remaining 38 states condone the death penalty under specific circumstances, not withholding the U.S. government. Kaveh Kashef, an Oakland County attorney, shares the views of these other 38 states, “In the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution it states: ‘nor shall any state deprive a person of LIFE, liberty, or property, without due process of law.’ The implication from that statement is that ‘life’ can be ‘deprived’ as long as the person has ‘due process of law,’ which is our court system.”
These two components combined, wrongful convictions and the death penalty, present a frightening question. How many innocent people have been sentenced to death? How many have actually been executed? Since 1973, there have been 119 people exonerated from death row. 119 people who were incorrectly sentenced to their deaths. Oops.
The use of improving technology has been ever so helpful, allowing the testing and identification of DNA to out-rule most people who have been found innocent and in some cases, identify the actual criminal. The most recognized organization dedicated to exonerating the innocent is The Innocence Project, a pro-bono establishment dedicated to proving innocent those who have been falsely convicted through DNA testing. The center was opened in 1992 in New York City and has since exonerated 157 people. For additional information please visit www.innocenceproject.org.
After ingesting all of this information, it is almost ironic that the United States has one of the most prestigious legal systems in the world. It also makes you wonder how matters such as these are dealt with elsewhere. There are many countries that don’t even require a serious crime to put their citizens to death. Throughout the years it has been the people of our own country who have decided upon the laws and regulations that dictate the consequences of people’s actions. Kashef has not changed his views and beliefs concerning the legal system since becoming a lawyer and remains strong in his faith that justice will regularly be attained as was intended. “Because it is run by the citizens (the legal system), and the citizens are humans, mistakes will be made. We try to include as many checks, balances, rules, and procedures to minimize and catch mistakes, but sometimes they will get through.” Kinesiology senior, Tony Schuster agrees with that statement, “I realize that the system isn’t perfect and there will always be flaws, but as a whole I feel that it will generally carry out procedures in the anticipated manner with accurate results.”

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