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THE JUSTICE SYSTEM CAN PRODUCE INJUSTICE

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Article 17-26

¡No Se Deje!

The most brilliant legal minds in history have agreed with and repeated the famous legal principle “IT IS BETTER THAT 10 GUILTY MEN GO FREE THAN ONE INNOCENT MAN BE IMPRISONED”.  That is why the American legal system has established certain rules designed to avoid convicting innocent people.  The “presumption of innocence” requires judges and juries to presume that people accused of having committed a crime are innocent unless guilt is proved “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt”.  In spite of these and other rules, the official records reveal that an incalculable number of people have been wrongly convicted, imprisoned, and even executed.

 

MORE THAN 200 MEN AND WOMEN HAVE BEEN WRONGFULLY CONVICTED IN CALIFORNIA SINCE 1990 according to the records of the “Faces of Wrongful Conviction Project”.  There is no way to adequately compensate these victims and their families for having spent years, and even decades, in prison or having been executed.

 

Only 22 states have laws that provide compensation for wrongful conviction and imprisonment.  California law provides $100 for each day that a wrongfully convicted person spends in jail or prison if he can prove that he is in fact innocent.  It is not enough to argue that the jury just got it wrong.  Usually proving actual innocence is done by using DNA evidence which shows that the accused could not possibly have been the perpetrator.  Sometimes actual innocence is established when the guilty person later confesses to committing the crime.

 

Legal experts have identified several recurring causes for wrongful convictions.

  1. Witnesses often mistakenly identify the wrong person as the perpetrator. This mistake occurs more often when the witness and the suspect are from different racial or ethnic groups.
  2. Willful misconduct by Police officers, prosecutors, witnesses and experts such as blood and fingerprint technicians have produced many unlawful convictions. Even judges have been guilty of misconduct or of giving improper jury instructions.
  3. Suspects are threatened or pressured into confessing to crimes that they did not commit.
  4. Some defense attorneys are not qualified or willing to competently represent their clients.

 

Latinos are too often the victims of these violations.  Non-Latinos witnesses often have a difficult time accurately identifying Latinos.  As a result, these witnesses often identify the wrong Latino.  This is what happened to Arthur Carmona, a 16 year old accused of robbery in Orange County, California.  He spent two years in prison before his lawyer was able to show that police misconduct caused the witness to mistakenly identify him.

 

Latinos, especially undocumented immigrants, are often pressured to plead guilty to crimes that they did not commit.  They do this because it is less expensive. They do not have to pay an attorney and they will not have to miss work to participate in a trial.  And, sometimes the penalty is “credit for time served” which means that the time in jail before going to court is the entire penalty.  If he pleads guilty he can leave immediately and the case is over.  And, undocumented immigrants that are not in custody often plead guilty to end the case quickly to avoid the possibility of being identified by immigration authorities.

 

This reality reveals major imperfections in our system of justice.  And while we can still feel confident that we have one of the best legal systems in the world, it is impossible to justify so many innocent people pleading guilty or being wrongfully convicted of committing crimes, sent to prison, and even being executed. ¡NO SE DEJE! ®

  

JESS J. ARAUJO, ESQ.