Law enforcement agencies play an essential role in maintaining law and order in any state. Legal proceedings are the only mechanism for the implementation of legislation that ensures the prevention of crime. The power exercised by law enforcement officials is a powerful tool for the performance of government functions. However, nowadays, the criminal justice system suffers from misidentification of eyewitnesses, unfounded and inadequate forensic evidence, false confessions, inappropriate legal intervention, and government misconduct leading to multiple wrongful convictions.
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The illegality of the verdict lies in the fact that the decision is made contrary to the established factual circumstances of the case or with a significant violation of the norms of material or procedural legislation. In turn, Rattner (1988) restricts this concept and includes in the category of wrongful conviction only those cases in which a person was convicted of a serious crime but was later rehabilitated. Since this definition describes cases in which an error has been formally acknowledged rather than declared, more adequate conclusions can be drawn.
The correct application of the law and the imposition of a fair punishment on the perpetrator helps to minimize the number of wrongful convictions. It is expressed in the conviction of an innocent person, which cannot correspond to the tasks of the criminal process, harming the legal consciousness of citizens and eroding the legal culture of society. Duncan (2019) notes that wrongful convictions undermine the legitimacy of the criminal justice system. It poses serious problems for public safety because when innocent people are behind bars, real criminals still remain in society, committing crimes. Moreover, Angeles (2013) affirms that public confidence in the system falls when inappropriate convictions are detected. Therefore, wrongful convictions are detrimental not only to individuals but also to the criminal justice system as a whole.
There are different opinions about the reasons for wrongful convictions. According to Campbell (2018), some wrongful convictions are objective and innocent by law enforcement officers. According to this point of view, the reason for the emergence lies in some imperfection of certain procedural institutions, in the complexity and volume of legislation, as well as in the working conditions of law enforcement agencies. In turn, Campbell (2018) notes that some reasons for miscarriages of justice are subjective. Guilty are those participants in the justice system who failed or did not want to accurately fulfill all the law requirements when deciding a particular issue or case. Insufficient legal qualifications of court officials carrying out procedural activities and an unfair attitude to the performance of official duties in examining a specific case contribute to the issuance of unlawful convictions. Thus, there is no single point of view on the causes of wrongful convictions, and opposing ideas about this issue are proposed.
The work of law enforcement agencies is associated with many moral problems generated by the specifics of the purpose, content, forms, methods, and means of their activities. The fulfillment of the tasks of criminal justice is directly dependent on the legality, validity, and fairness of all participants in the justice system. According to Palmiotto (2021), the court’s impartiality about the parties to the process is one of the most important guarantees for ensuring a fair, objective, comprehensive, and lawful consideration and resolution of the case. Furthermore, methods such as improving the qualifications of participants in the justice system, improving the institution of disciplinary responsibility for wrongful errors, and systematic study and analysis of judicial practice help prevent the imposition of inappropriate convictions. Therefore, compliance with ethical standards is a mandatory component in the work of various actors in the justice system, which is a guarantee of preventing wrongful convictions.
To establish uniform ethical norms, rules, and requirements for the official conduct of law enforcement agencies and maintain an appropriate level of official discipline and legality among employees, documents have been approved.
Among them is the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics. Another mechanism to ensure compliance with ethical standards in law enforcement agencies is the creation of regulatory bodies. For example, in Texas, the Forensic Science Commission was created, whose activities are aimed at monitoring compliance with the law in forensic laboratories and courtrooms. According to Eyewitness Misidentification (n.d.), the mistaken identity of witnesses is a leading factor in wrongful convictions. In this regard, mechanisms such as double-blind administration, careful lineup composition, confidence statements, recording of identification procedures, and the sequential presentation of lineup members reduce the number of false eyewitness identifications and help prevent wrongful convictions.
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Therefore, the primary indicator of poor administration of justice is wrongful convictions, which contribute to public mistrust of the criminal justice system, reduce public safety, and undermine the legitimacy of the system. In this regard, an increased responsibility is imposed on law enforcement officers, which can be fully realized only with full respect for the principles of professional morality. Thus, strict adherence to ethical standards by all participants in the justice system reduces the number of wrongful convictions. Moreover, mechanisms such as establishing regulatory bodies, approving regulations, and reforming the criminal system, including identifying witnesses, are essential aspects of the fight against wrongful convictions.
Angeles, A. (2013). Wrongful conviction and the case for forensic evidence in the Philippine criminal justice system. Ateneo Law Journal, 57(4). 1155-1174.
Campbell, K. (2018). Miscarriages of justice in Canada: Causes, responses, remedies. University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division.
Duncan, C. (2019). Justifying justice: Six factors of wrongful convictions and their solutions. Themis: Research Journal of Justice Studies and Forensic Science, 7(6), 91-107. Web.
Eyewitness Misidentification. (n.d.). Department of Public Advocacy. Web.
Palmiotto, M. (2021). Criminal justice system. Salem Press Encyclopedia.
Rattner, A. (1988). Convicted but innocent: Wrongful conviction and the criminal justice system. Law and Human Behavior, 12(3), 283-293. Web.