Law enforcement and judicial misconduct are not myths. There is ample evidence that some members of the criminal justice system ignore basic rules and, in some cases, make a concerted effort to present a false narrative. The latest proof comes from a troubling study by the National Registry of Exonerations.
The researchers combed through 2,400 cases where a convicted defendant was later found to be innocent and looked for signs of misconduct by police or prosecutors. They found it in more than half of the cases.
Misconduct in wrongful convictions
The 204-page report was released by the National Registry of Exonerations, with researchers having reviewed convictions dating back to 1989, the Detroit News reports. Researchers discovered police misconduct in 34% of cases and prosecutor misconduct in 30% of them. All told, wrongdoing by one or both of those two institutions was present in 54% of these wrongful convictions.
The misconduct occurred at all stages of the case, from the onset of the criminal investigation through to the trial. The researchers divided this misconduct into five categories:
- Witness tampering
- Interrogation misconduct
- Fabrication of evidence
- Concealing evidence that would have cleared the defendant
- Trial misconduct
Police or prosecutor misconduct appeared in 57% of cases involving Black defendants, and 52% of cases involving white defendants. However, the disparity jumped significantly for drug cases (47% to 22%), murder cases (78% to 64%) and cases involving the death penalty (87% to 68%)
More police training and funding needed
The findings detailed by the National Registry of Exonerations are both disappointing and unsurprising. This study underscores the need for improved police training and increased funding.
In Wayne County, Michigan, we’ve made some real progress righting past wrongs alongside the Conviction Integrity Unit. But more needs to be done to rid the criminal justice system of the type of misconduct that leads to wrongful convictions.
“Misconduct by police, prosecutors and other law enforcement officials is a regular problem,” one co-founder of the registry told the Washington Post, “and it produces a steady stream of convictions of innocent people.”
Fixing this will require time, effort and resources, but doing so is long overdue. For those who have been victimized by a culture of misconduct, know there are many people out there ready to fight for you.