American Justice: Failing miserably on conviction, what is a miss?
Wrongful conviction in the criminal justice system has become prevalent around the world. Zalman and Carrono (53) affirm that thousands of innocent individuals are wrongfully convicted for different felonies annually. As a result of the wrongful convictions, the victims are subjected to long jail terms. If the wrongful judgement is not corrected in time, the victims end up losing a substantial amount of time. In extreme situations, wrongful conviction can lead to loss of life through administration of death penalty in some jurisdictions. In both outcomes, no amount of compensation can be administered to adequately repay the victim upon being exonerated (Miller 24). Wrongful conviction is on the rise.
The United States is one of the countries that has been characterised by prevalence of wrongful convictions. Wrongful conviction in the US is illustrated by the case ‘Wrongly Convicted’ by Terry Golway. Golway cites Scott Fappiano and Jerry Mark Deskovic as some of the victims of wrongful conviction under the US criminal justice system (Muller &Weiner 199). On the basis of this case, the author reveals existence of gaps in the country’s criminal justice system. The author utilises questions as one of the fundamental rhetoric tools in illustrating the gaps and underlining the importance of undertaking the requisite reforms. Despite the fact that Scott and Deskovic did not lose their life due to the wrongful conviction, the question of the risk posed by miscarriage of the justice system to victims cannot be ignored. On the basis of this aspect, reforming the justice system is paramount.
The case study appeals to the audience by illustrating and questioning the effectiveness of the justice system in administering justice to victims. This goal is achieved by presenting evidence on the prevalence of wrongful convictions. According to the case study, Scott Fappiano was accused of raping a woman in Brooklyn in 1985. His trial was not an ‘open and shut’ case but was very extensive by involving photograph identification of the perpetrator and blood tests. Garrett (85) accentuate that overreliance on the personal accounts of the rape victim increased the likelihood of the criminal justice system erring in delivering justice. This arises from the fact that the likelihood of making the wrong judgement on the basis of opinion provided as opposed to facts was substantially high. For example, identification of the actual man who raped the woman was wrong. This aspect is evidenced by the fact that Fappiano was 5 inch shorter compared to the attacker described by the victim of rape. Nevertheless, he was sentenced to 50 years in prison (Muller & Weiner 200). The wrongful conviction was as a result of reliance on flawed forensics. Thus, the identification of the attacker using a photograph was suggestive and hence unreliable.
The author is of the view that Scott was ‘kidnapped’ by the imperfect justice system and encountered extensive suffering because of judges errors, who do not always get it right all the time. The case further underlines lack of willingness of the parties in the justice system to administer justice. Despite, Fappiano’s maintenance of his innocence for years and his persistence in requesting the local prosecutor, Jeanine Pirro to re-examine the DNA evidence provided in making the ruling, the office of the prosecutor declined to provide Fappiano his request. These aspects leave a question on the extent to which the justice system implemented by the government can be trusted in delivering justice. According to Muller and Weiner, Terry Golway posits, ‘How many prisoners in the United States today have received a far more worse sentence, death, for crimes they did not commit?’ (199). On the basis of this perspective, the number of persons who might have lost or might lose their life due to administration of death penalty based on erroneous judgment might be substantially high. Therefore, in seeking justice, it is imperative for individuals who opine that they are wrongfully convicted to consider the support of independent legal bodies. This approach might increase the likelihood of victims of wrongful conviction regaining their freedom as opposed to when they would have relied on help from the very justice system that committed them to wrongful jail terms.
Advocates of death penalty in the US are of the perception that the country’s justice system has implemented built-in procedures and checks to eliminate the likelihood of convicting innocent persons to death penalty. Nevertheless, evidence of increase in cases of wrongful conviction highlights existence of significant gaps in the justice system that should be addressed prior to integration of convictions such as death penalty. Barry Scheck, one of the Innocence Project lawyers involved in Deskovic exoneration underline the need for justice system reforms by affirming that ‘This is the fifth man to be exonerated in a murder case in New York State over the past 10 months’ (Carter 499). Therefore, enactment of death penalty in the US should be given extensive review by parties in the justice system such as juries, judges and prosecutors.
In this case, Fappiano’s conviction was not adequately based on facts. Despite the fact that the blood tests conducted failed to prove Fappiano’s involvement in the crime, the judges largely relied on the accounts of the woman in question. Integration of this approach in administering justice is likely to lead to a flawed judgement. Considering the likelihood of such outcome, individuals who are sure that they are wrongfully accused for certain crime should emphasise on integration of the scientific approach where possible. On the other hand, the justice system should provide optimal room for such an approach. On the basis of this aspect, administration of justice should not be based on opinion but irrefutable facts.
The high incidence of wrongful convictions in the United States indicates that the current legal system is yet to integrate effective mechanisms to support administration of justice. After serving for over 20 years, Scott was exonerated after intervention by the Innocence Project Group into his case. His exoneration was as a result of the Innocence Project approach of re-looking into his case on the basis of a DNA test. Through this approach, the group was able to successfully appeal against the initial judgment. On the other hand, Jeffrey Mark Deskovic would have been wrongfully sentenced to death had the New York governors accented to the death penalty legislation (Carter 498). Since 1989, the Innocence Project has successfully appealed against and secured the release of over 200 people from jail who were wrongfully convicted (Carter 498). This represents a substantially large number of persons who would have served jail term for crimes they did not commit.
In reforming the justice system, incorporation of a mandatory DNA testing should be entrenched in law. Moreover, a collaborative approach by integrating different parties should be integrated in undertaking DNA testing. Despite resistance by civil libertarians against the push by the Innocence project on the inclusion of DNA testing in the justice system on the basis of the high cost that might be incurred, the importance of ensuring that the justice system is effective cannot be compared with the monetary cost. This approach will play a fundamental role in ensuring that administration of justice is not influenced by flawed forensics. Carmen is of the view that ‘DNA testing is doubtless and effective instrument in the search for justice, both for the state and for the wrongfully accused or convicted’ (231). Innocent individuals convicted as a result of miscarriage in the justice system should consider integrating scientific approach in appealing against the conviction (Huff & Kallias 76). This approach increases the likelihood of being exonerated from the crime they are accused of. DNA testing will provide the victims of wrongful conviction to prove their innocence beyond doubt (Zalman & Carrano 271). Had the Innocence Project not intervened, Fappiano would still be serving his unfair jail sentence.
In a conclusion, wrongful conviction has been major issue in the US justice system as evidenced by the large number of individuals exonerated from their jail term. The prevalence of wrongful conviction has largely arisen from reliance on flawed forensics in administering judgement. The problem is worsened by lack of commitment on the part of the parties charged with delivering justice such as prosecutors, judges and juries in ensuring that justice is actually served. This underlines the need for reforms to be implemented in the justice system. One of the most effective reforms that should be considered relate to integration of scientific approach in the justice system such as ensuring that mandatory DNA testing is conducted.
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