Wrongful Conviction, Forced Confessions, Police Misconduct and Evidence Tampering
While wrongful convictions and police misconduct are anything but new, there is now a heightened level of awareness of these injustices among the general public. Securing release from prison is the top priority of anyone wrongfully convicted person, but it is also important to remember that there could be a remedy in civil court.
For many people wrongfully convicted of a crime, the best opportunity to hold the government accountable is through a civil lawsuit. This blog covers wrongful convictions and police misconduct as well as the civil remedies available to the wrongfully accused.
The Basics of Wrongful Convictions
Wrongful convictions occur throughout the country each year. The unfortunate reality is that it is impossible to accurately measure just how widespread wrongful convictions have become. That said, there are a number of academic studies that have attempted to quantify the impact of wrongful convictions throughout the United States. A 2018 study suggests that at least six percent of the population of state prisons is wrongfully convicted. By their estimate, that number could be as high as 16 percent.
These wrongful convictions occur for a variety of reasons. Forced and false confessions are arguably the most common cause. In more egregious cases, police falsify evidence to secure a wrongful conviction. Prosecutorial misconduct and malicious prosecution are also significant factors.
One of the most shocking forms of wrongdoing is the falsification of evidence in a criminal case. According to a study by the National Registry of Exonerations, misconduct by police and prosecutors is a primary cause of wrongful convictions. Falsifying evidence is one of the most notable types of misconduct in these situations.
Falsifying evidence can happen in different ways, including:
- Hiding Evidence. One common form of falsifying evidence involves obscuring or hiding evidence that could lead to an acquittal. This could involve hiding DNA evidence pointing to another suspect or failing to turn over the name of a witness that could exonerate the accused.
- Destroying Physical Evidence. Falsifying evidence could also involve destroying evidence that points to innocence.
- Fabricating Evidence. Some police have been known to fabricate evidence of guilt. This could involve concocting witness statements that incriminate the defendant. It could also involve creating or planting physical evidence that points to the accused.
This type of misconduct is particularly harmful, as it involves an intentional act by police or prosecutors to subvert justice to convict an innocent person of a crime they did not commit.
Malicious prosecution is the abuse of the criminal justice system by a state prosecutor targeting an innocent person. A prosecution is malicious when it is brought despite the lack of evidence of guilt for the crime in question. Essentially, malicious prosecution is a case that involves the prosecutor pursuing criminal charges with malice despite the lack of incriminating evidence.
It is worth noting that there is a high bar to prove malicious prosecution. After all, the state is not limited to filing charges only when the evidence of guilt is overwhelming. For a prosecution to be considered malicious, the underlying cause must be so weak that any reasonable prosecutor would have declined to pursue the case.
Malicious prosecution is also a civil tort that gives the wrongfully accused grounds to pursue monetary compensation against the city. It should be noted that proving a case of “malicious prosecution” does not require a conviction. This is because the mere allegation of criminal wrongdoing could be harmful to the accused. Many people spend months or years waiting in jail before they are ever tried for the charges they face.
A confession by the accused can be the centerpiece of a criminal prosecution. Indeed, it is sometimes the only evidence that a prosecutor has when trying to incarcerate someone for decades to come. Unfortunately, false confessions happen all the time. All too often, they are coerced or forced by the actions of the police.
Since the late 1980s, studies have identified more than 250 false confessions that were forced or coerced through police interrogation. The real number of forced confessions is likely much higher.
There are other signs that false or forced confessions make up a large percentage of wrongful convictions. According to the National Registry of Exonerations, more than one out of every four people exonerated gave a false confession during the course of the police interview. The vast majority of those cases involved homicides.
There are different reasons why people confess to crimes they did not commit, but most of them boil down to aggressive tactics from the police. In some cases, this includes the use of threats or physical violence to extract a confession from a suspect. Many people eventually confess to whatever they have been accused of in an effort to escape the situation.
Wrongful Convictions in Philadelphia
Philadelphia has long been a hotbed of wrongful criminal convictions. The city currently faces multiple wrongful conviction lawsuits that could result in monetary awards totaling tens of millions of dollars.
As of June 2021, more than two dozen malicious prosecution lawsuits were pending against the City of Philadelphia from individuals exonerated of their criminal charges. As the Philadelphia Inquirer reports, the number of suits could increase dramatically in the near future.
The Conviction Integrity Unit
To combat the rash of wrongful convictions plaguing the city, District Attorney Larry Krasner has developed a Conviction Integrity Unit within the District Attorney’s office. This unit is tasked with ensuring that past criminal convictions were lawful and did not involve any form of official misconduct.
The Conviction Integrity Unit is tasked with investigating allegations of wrongful convictions when there is enough evidence that an innocent person has been incarcerated. A case will only be reviewed when a defendant makes a written request for their case to heard.
Certain guidelines must be met in order for the Conviction Integrity Unit to review a conviction. First, the conviction must have occurred within the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas.
The Unit does not have jurisdiction to review cases brought by other district attorneys. Second, there must be a claim of actual innocence or wrongful conviction. Finally, the claim must not be frivolous. In other words, there must be some evidence of actual innocence or wrongful conviction.
The Wrongful Conviction of Walter Ogrod
One of the most famous wrongful convictions in Pennsylvania history involves our client Walter Ogrod. Walter Ogrod was wrongfully convicted of murdering 4-year-old Barbara Jean Horn in 1988. After a mistrial, Ogrod’s second trial resulted in a murder conviction in 1996. While he confessed to the murder initially, Ogrod claims police coerced the confession. He has maintained his innocence ever since.
In June of 2020, the Philadelphia prosecutor’s office joined with Ogrod’s defense counsel to file a motion seeking the dismissal of the charges against Ogrod. Ogrod was freed after the Court of Common Pleas overturned his conviction. With our help, Walter is now suing the City of Philadelphia in civil court. If successful, the financial compensation could be life-changing.
Compensation for a Wrongful Conviction
It is impossible to undo the damage that comes with serving time in prison following a wrongful conviction. There is no way to recover the lost time or undo the emotional and physical toll that a wrongful conviction brings.
That said, there is an avenue for monetary compensation following a wrongful conviction. Although this money will not undo what happened, it may provide the wrongfully convicted with the resources needed to get their life back on track. Some of the compensation that could be available with these claims could cover:
- Emotional distress
- Lost income
- Diminished future earning capacity
- Physical injuries
- Medical expenses
- Punitive damages
Hold The Police Accountable for Misconduct
There is no way to undo the harm that comes with police misconduct and wrongful convictions. For many people who fall victim to this behavior, large portions of their lives were simply wasted behind bars. The good news is that there is a remedy under the law for this kind of injustice.
Once you have established your innocence and secured your release following a wrongful conviction, your next step towards justice involves a civil lawsuit. You could pursue a civil claim to recover monetary compensation from the government that wronged you.
The Marrone Law Firm, LLC is proud to fight for the rights of the wrongly convicted. Holding police and prosecutors guilty of misconduct accountable is a role we take seriously. If you are ready to pursue action in your case, call right away for your free initial consultation.