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  • Writer's pictureKailey Lei

Societal Implications: How Wrongful Convictions Affect YOU

Why should wrongful convictions matter? Perhaps you don't have any personal relations with the justice system: no convicted relatives, no concerns because "the justice system is right most of the time anyways" and just no interest in pursuing the field of law. So, in this case, the topic and debate of wrongful convictions might seem mundane to you: if it isn't significant enough to affect you personally, then why should it be significant to you at all? I contend that beyond personal consequences of psychological, familial, time, and even monetary compensations (which could be a consequence footed by you, as a taxpayer, too; see Who Pays for Wrongful Convictions?), there is a deeper root of a systemic issue: the allowance of wrongful convictions is eroding your fundamental rights of true justice and equality.

Skewed Incentives

The current justice system in the US favors winning and reputation over truth, the result of an outdated adversarial system. With the prosecution's main task to "make a case look good", the direct motive lies not in protecting the innocent and finding truth, but instead in carelessly convicting for the prosecutor’s own incentive (Roach, 399). With a system rewarding victory and persuasion, the prosecution’s motivations aren’t by their good conscience or the love of justice, but now increasingly becoming a game of personal stats. Like a game, the more convictions that the prosecutor can collect, the more power they can collect for themselves, shifting the purpose of trial to wanting to get end results instead of the process. Thus, prosecution biases like plea bargaining, jailhouse informants and witness manipulation contribute to the largest factors of wrongful conviction: eyewitness misidentification, faulty forensic evidence, false confessions, incentivized witnesses and governmental misconduct/bad lawyering (see 5 Leading Causes of Wrongful Conviction for more info).

Erosion of American Fundamental Rights

"The Causes of Wrongful Conviction" by Paul Craig Roberts explains the social effects of wrongful conviction on the erosion of American fundamental rights. Unlike the Blackstonian view, which holds that the law should be a protection for the people, where the greater good lies in preventing the innocent from being convicted even at the expense of freeing the guilty, our society holds the Benthamite view instead: the law as a punishment for criminals so that the greater good lies in incarcerating possible criminals (Roberts 568, 569). However, in doing so, as we explored above, we are sacrificing the victims' fundamental liberties of justice and fairness for personal greed in achieving victory and winning the case. And in turn, by encroaching on the victims' liberties through deception and manipulation, we are loosening the foundation of justice that the justice system relies on as well. As the justice system becomes less "just" and more "biased", it makes sense that our society, in turn, loses the same fundamental rights for all citizens. If we increasingly cannot trust the justice system, which is supposed to protect our rights, who's to say our rights won't eventually be encroached upon as well? Overall, the societal concern and implication at hand is that as initial encroachments of individual rights increase, justice as a whole will eventually fade.

The Irony of An Imperfect Justice System: How Much Longer Will it Last?

Advancing the development of DNA technology, Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld set the precedents of reformation from one of prosecutorial bias to a tool to uncover bias and errors through the Innocence Project. For the first time, the public questioned the reliability of the traditional legal system rooted in protection. Not only was there a shift in social consciousness, but one in agency as the stagnancy of the outdated public system called out mutual responsibility for reformation. The historical shift of the Innocence Project was a turning point in not just criminal freedom, but a warning sign to eliminate the issues that will just continue getting worse. The victims of wrongful convictions are no longer just incarcerated prisoners, but the entire American society are now the prisoners as the result of the encroachment on our fundamental ideals of justice and equality. Now, as more criminal cases unfold and the legislative system passes laws, it will just become more and more imperative to take the initiative in ensuring a just future not merely for yourself but for the sake of future society.


Norris, Robert. “Exonerated: A History of the Innocence Movement.” New York : New York University Press, (2017). Roach, Kent. "Wrongful Convictions: Adversarial and Inquisitorial Themes" North Carolina Journal of International Law and Commercial Regulation, Vol. 35, 2010.

Roberts, Paul Craig. “The Causes of Wrongful Conviction.” The Independent Review 7, no. 4 (2003): 567–74.

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