It’s easy to forget about a criminal’s rights when immigration reform, natural resources, and racial equality are constantly at the center of attention. The Women’s March in late January was the largest demonstration in US history; but of the things women were rallying for, criminal justice and rights of the accused were far from top of the list.
Without dismissing other areas of social inequality, I have a hard time ignoring the issues surrounding our criminal justice system; namely, how the rights of the accused have been marginalized in the media and in the public’s perception.
According to a new report from The National Registry of Exoneration, in 2015, 149 people were exonerated for crimes they did not commit; the average time spent in prison was almost 15 years, and five of the people who were exonerated were death row inmates.
Most of the exonerations reported in this study uncovered errors and official misconduct, including false confessions. Upon further investigation, no crime had actually been committed in several of these cases (many were alleged murder charges where it turned out to be accidental arson).
Why It Matters
The media has not done a fair job of informing the public that criminal injustice has stripped innocent men and women of their free lives, torn them away from their families, and even had them put to death amid wrongful convictions.
For many of those exonerated, including those currently seeking appeal, the reasons for wrongful convictions are no more complex than being in the wrong place at the wrong time; or worse, a matter of hearsay without due process.
While podcasts like Serial, Undisclosed, and Truth & Justice are working hard to bring false convictions into the mainstream consciousness, there are no formal plans in place to overhaul a failing, and frankly, terrifying criminal justice system.
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