Police Misconduct Leading to Wrongful Convictions
While there are many honest and ethical law enforcement officials in the United States justice system, there are also some law enforcement officials who unfortunately commit misconduct with regard to the crimes that they are investigating. Not only do these law enforcement officials adversely impact the credibility of other honest officials, but they can literally destroy the lives of persons who are wrongfully accused and even convicted of crimes. From detectives who do not testify truthfully, to police officers that manufacture, destroy, and/or hide evidence, and even law enforcement officials who have improperly influenced witness identifications and suspect confessions, there have been many instances where police misconduct has resulted in wrongful convictions.
Police Misconduct as a Basis for Appeals
The defense counsel’s role in a criminal case is to raise reasonable doubt in the mind of the jury. Any sort of misbehavior by law enforcement officials, or any evidence that negatively impacts the credibility of the evidence produced by police, can constitute sufficient reasonable doubt to result in a hung jury or an outright acquittal. In those cases, the justice system works as it should.
However, in other cases, police misconduct is not apparent to the jury, or the defense is unable to definitively prove during trial that any misconduct has occurred. These are the cases in which a person may be – and has been – wrongfully convicted of a crime. Fortunately, criminal convictions are subject to appellate review, which may result in police misconduct coming to light. If an appeals court reviewing a criminal conviction determines that police misconduct has occurred to the extent that it violated the defendant’s constitutional rights or impeded his or her ability to have a fair trial, or that the proffered evidence was insufficient to support the conviction, then the appeals court has the power to overturn the criminal conviction.
Police Giving False Testimony
While there are literally thousands of upstanding law enforcement officials, there are also some police officers who are less than honest. Whether their dishonesty stems from an attempt to cover up shoddy police work, a lack of willingness to do their jobs thoroughly and appropriately, or a simple desire to convict suspects whom they believe are guilty, police officers sometimes give testimony that is exaggerated, not fully accurate, and/or just plain fabricated. Due to the respect and credibility that many community members attribute to law enforcement officials, it is easy to see how a police officer’s false testimony could result in a wrongful conviction.
Police Improperly Handling Evidence
Law enforcement officials typically are the first responders to a crime, and thus are responsible for properly gathering, preserving, and documenting evidence that can later be used in a criminal prosecution of the crime’s perpetrator. Therefore, there is the potential not only for human error by police officers, but also for intentional misconduct. Police mishandle, suppress, doctor, or fabricate evidence for a variety of reasons. Some police officers might wish to cover up a mistake or omission that they made during the initial investigation. Other police officers are convinced that a certain suspect is guilty of a crime, and to choose to improperly manipulate the evidence in order to build a stronger case against that suspect. In any case, police misconduct with regard to evidence in a criminal case can result in wrongful convictions, and form a basis to overturn any convictions on appeal.
Police Coercing Witnesses and Suspects
As part of their job duties, law enforcement officials have the task of interrogating witnesses, eliciting confessions, and interviewing witnesses to crimes. During this process, police officers may inadvertently or purposefully influence the statements of both witnesses and suspects. For instance, a police officer who believes a suspect to be guilty of a crime might place undue or inappropriate pressure on the suspect to confess to a crime that he or she did not commit. Likewise, a police officer who shows a photo array to a witness or administers a line-up might somehow suggest to the witness which person is the subject in question. Improper police tactics such as these can not only result in wrongful convictions, but also can be an appealable issue that might later exonerate the suspect.
Additional Criminal Law Articles
- What To Do If You're Arrested
- The Search of Cars at the Time of Arrest
- When is a Search Warrant Necessary?
- Some Misdemeanor Convictions Eligbile for Dismissal through Victim Compromise Programs
- Miranda Rights: The Who, What, Where, When and Why
- What Comes Next After the Arrest?
- Initial Consultation With a Criminal Defense Attorney or a Public Defender
- The Preliminary Hearing
- Regaining the Right to Vote Following a Criminal Conviction
- Infraction, Misdemeanor or Felony: What is the Difference?
- Murders and Manslaughters
- The Pros and Cons of Plea Bargaining
- Avoiding a Criminal Record
- Can the Cops Search My Car?
- Expunging Criminal Records
- What to do if Police Use Excessive Force
- How Can A Criminal Record Affect Your Job Application?
- How a Criminal is Sentenced for a Crime
- Sentencing Guidelines: Fair Sentences or a Denial of Trial by Jury?
- Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity
- Wrongful Convictions
- Wrongful Incarceration Due to Police Planted Evidence
- Wrongful Convictions Resulting from False Confessions
- How the False Testimony of Snitches Results in Wrongful Convictions
- Witness Misidentification
- Prosecutorial Misconduct Leading to Wrongful Convictions
- How Bad Lawyering Can Result in Wrongful Convictions
- Overturning Wrongful Convictions Through DNA Testing
- Violating Probation
- What Happens When You Face Out of State Criminal Charges?
- The Juvenile Court System for Minors Accused of Crimes
- Double Jeopardy
- Domestic Violence Law
- What Is The National Sex Offender Registry?
- The Truth About Perjury
- The White Collar Crime of Insurance Fraud
- Bail For Beginners
- When Does Discipline Become Abuse?
- Do You Swear to Tell the Whole Truth? The Admissibility of Lie Detector Tests
- Defense Strategies in Criminal Cases
- Probable Cause to Arrest Someone
- Resisting Arrest
- The Fruit of the Poisonous Tree Doctrine
- What Is a Defense Attorney?
- What Happens If I Am Arrested?
- What Are The Miranda Rights?
- Where Do The Miranda Rights Come From?
- When Must The Police Read Me My Miranda Rights?
- What Do My Miranda Rights Protect Against During A Police Investigation?
- How Do I Know If I Am In Custody?
- What Is A Custodial Interrogation Requiring A Miranda Warning?
- Do The Police Have To Wait Until I Have An Attorney Present Before They Question Me?
- How Do I Know The Difference Between Being Questioned (Non-Custodial Interrogation) And Being Interrogated (Custodial Interrogation)?
- I Was Pulled Over For A Traffic Violation And Questioned. Isn't This An Illegal Interrogation?
- Is Invoking My Right To Remain Silent The Same Thing As Asking For An Attorney?
- What Is A Plea Bargain?
- What is expungement?
- What sort of records can be expunged?
- What are the requirements for having a criminal record expunged?
- What are the chances of having a criminal record expunged?
- Can I have my juvenile records expunged?
- If I have a record expunged, do I have to disclose it to anyone in the future?
- What is Assault?
- What are my rights when charged with a crime?
- What Is A Grand Jury?
- What Is Bail?
- What happens at an arraignment?
- Does an Expunged Criminal Record Still Follow You?
- If I Am Arrested, Should I Hire An Attorney?
- A warrant has been issued for my arrest, what does this mean?
Search LawInfo's Criminal Law Resources
State Criminal Law Articles
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Dakota