In an ideal world, mistakes would never be made. In a nearly ideal world, mistakes would be quickly corrected. In either of those worlds, innocent people would never face the risk of a criminal conviction because they could count on the truth coming out.
Sadly, our world is less than ideal. It is an unfortunate reality that innocent people are not only charged but convicted. More than 160 people who were on death row have been exonerated after their innocence was finally discovered. Many served decades in prison for crimes they did not commit.
Nobody knows how many innocent people accused of noncapital crimes are serving sentencing sentences they do not deserve. Most death penalty exonerations have been based on DNA evidence, but evidence containing DNA is gathered in only a small percentage of crimes.
Criminal defense lawyers pride themselves on being the guardians of liberty. We do everything we can to assure that the innocent are never convicted. To minimize the risk of a wrongful conviction, innocent individuals should retain a lawyer as soon as they realize they might be suspected of wrongdoing.
Innocent Defendants Face a Real Risk of Conviction
Innocent people are falsely accused and wrongly convicted of crimes for many reasons. Among the most common are:
- A malicious accusation by someone who wants to make trouble for the accused
- Mistaken identification
- Unreliable scientific evidence
- Victims or witnesses perceive events incorrectly
- Victims or witnesses have unreliable memories
- Witnesses are pressured to give false statements
- The police fail to pursue evidence that is inconsistent with their theory of guilt
- Police or prosecutors conceal evidence of a defendant’s innocence
An accused who committed a minor offense may face conviction of a more serious offense because of the common practice of overcharging. Yet many people who committed no offense at all find themselves facing jail or prison time despite their innocence.
Why Innocent Defendants Need a Lawyer
It is naïve to think that you can tell your story to a prosecutor, clear up the misunderstanding, and walk free. Keep in mind that anything you say can be used against you. You might think that what you are saying proves our innocence, but your words may be misinterpreted and used as an admission of guilt.
While good prosecutors never want to prosecute the innocent, they are not on the side of criminal defendants. Once you have been arrested and charged, prosecutors do not presume that you are innocent. They see their job as obtaining a conviction.
Your lawyer is the only person in the system who will fight for your rights. Prosecutors are advocates for the government that charged you. Judges are, at best, neutral. The only advocate for your innocence is your own lawyer.
Don’t Wait to Hire a Lawyer
People who agree to talk to the police, thinking they have nothing to hide, often talk themselves into a jail sentence. Particularly when the police do not record the interview, they may twist your words until they suggest something you did not mean.
Any time the police want to question you about a crime, your response should be “I won’t talk to you unless my lawyer is present.” Your next step should be to call a Cedar Rapids criminal defense attorney to get the advice you need to avoid a wrongful conviction.