A Troubling Pattern of Wrongful Convictions

In a brief filed with the Mississippi Supreme Court, the Director of the National Registry of Exonerations provides guidance for the judges considering Willie Manning’s 1993 case. As well as focusing on Willie’s case, the guidance highlights this shocking fact:

“…death sentences are about 100 times more likely to end in exoneration (because of wrongful convictions*) than prison sentences in the United States”.

Other statistics confirm the prevalence of a pattern that disadvantages defendants facing the possibility of a death sentence. For instance, perjury and other deliberate false accusations constitute the most common reason for exonerations, with 55% of exonerees affected; yet the proportion of death penalty exonerees that suffered such accusations is significantly higher (72%).

The brief offers explanations as to why this systemic disadvantage prevails:

“…there are reasonable explanations for this troubling pattern…   Police and prosecutors devote far more resources to murder than to lesser crimes.  As a result, they often identify and prosecute murder suspects after difficult investigations that would not be pursued for robberies, let alone auto thefts. This intense focus on murder … may also increase the number of wrongful murder convictions. Homicide investigations are often difficult because, by definition, the victims are unavailable; nonetheless, cases that would otherwise have been abandoned are brought to trial because someone has been killed – which means that the authorities pursue murder prosecutions when the evidence is marginal and the risk of error is substantial; the extraordinary emotional and practical pressures to secure convictions for heinous crimes tempt police officers and prosecutors to cut corners; and everyone involved—the police, the prosecutors, the jurors, the judge—is reluctant to release a defendant who seems likely to have committed a vicious murder even if the evidence of guilt is open to doubt.”

As well as being pertinent to Willie’s case, the findings of the National Registry of Exonerations should surely be ringing alarm bells all over the USA.

*The italicized section has been added.

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