The combination of the adversarial system of criminal jurisprudence and one of the most culturally diverse and economically uneven communities has resulted in several incidences of injustice including wrongful convictions in the USA. Indeed, wrongful convictions have become endemic in America to the extent of seemingly discrediting the entire criminal justice system. In some instances, some individuals who had spent years in prison or even been executed have been found to have been wrongfully convicted in what in some cases seem to be persecution (Feagin, 2013). Several bearing factors contribute to the problem of wrongful conviction. These include institutional racism, the problem of racism itself, flaws in the adversarial system of jurisprudence, and finally the pecuniary factor in criminal Defence. A proper understanding of wrongful conviction in the US requires further research on how the factors bearing on wrongful conviction relate to one another.
Perhaps the greatest bearing factor to the problem of wrongful conviction is institutionalized and general racism (Feagin, 2013). This factor applies to the problem right from suspicion when a report is made to the police. There has always been a misconception that the African American community and in some instances the Native Americans and Hispanics are prone to crime. Therefore, when a criminal activity takes place, members of the society will more likely point fingers at a minority race. Next is the investigation part where the same issue applies as police and law enforcement will operate on an assumption of guilt towards people of color. In court, there is a high probability that a majority of jury members will be white due to their overall majority in the populace (Feagin, 2013). The jury system, designed to avoid wrongful conviction in this instant operates to the contrary. The totality of the foregoing results in a higher propensity for a wrongful conviction for people of color more so African Americans.
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The adversarial system is also a major part of the problem. By definition, in a criminal justice system, an adversarial system means that the state seeks to prove guilt at all cost with the defendant seeking to disprove the state’s case at all cost. The jury is then placed in the middle, under the direction of a judge to make a decision. At any given time, the resources of the state are overwhelmingly more than those of the defendant. Even when the benefit of the doubt is given to the defendant, it takes expensive legal counsel for a defendant to overcome the might of the state whether they are innocent or not (Baumgartner et al, 2014). From the investigating officer to the state counsel, the aspiration of the state is to win cases and secure convictions as opposed to finding out the truth. This has resulted in many wrongful convictions more so against defendants who lack the capacity to secure good legal counsel.
When two bearing factors affect the same process and outcome, focus mainly goes into the two factors independently without seeking to evaluate the relationship between them. Pecuniary capacity is a major bearing factor to the issue of wrongful conviction with low-income defendants having a higher propensity for being wrongfully convicted. Similarly, race is an important bearing factor on the issue of wrongful conviction with for example an African American having a higher propensity for wrongful conviction than a white defendant. Considering that African American defendants have a higher possibility of being financially challenged, it begs the question of if the trial outcome would be different if the African American defendants were financially secure. This would narrow down the problem and indicate of the solution necessary is a social one or a pecuniary one. The proposed research area, therefore, would be how the availability of finance acts as a bearing factor for wrongful conviction among African American defendants.
Baumgartner, F., Westervelt, S. D., & Cook, K. J. (2014). Public policy responses to wrongful convictions . Retrieved from https://www.unc.edu/~fbaum/Innocence/BaumgartnerWesterveltCookPolicyResponses-2013.pdf
Feagin, J. (2013). Race and Justice: Wrongful Convictions of African American Men Race and Justice: Wrongful Convictions of African American Men. Contemporary Sociology, 42 (1), 81-83. doi:10.1177/0094306112468721l