Wrongful convictions probably happen more than you think. The Innocence Project tracks how many people have been cleared using DNA evidence since 1989, and they note that it's happened to 347 people so far. Twenty of those individuals were facing capital punishment.
The justice system is full of checks and balances, and the standard of proof is very high, all because these types of wrongful convictions need to be avoided.
As these statistics show, though, they keep happening. Presumably, there are far more innocent people behind bars right now, and it's hard to know how many people served their sentences before DNA evidence could even be used. Why does this happen?
In some situations, eyewitnesses prove to be very untrustworthy. They may not lie on purpose, but they identified the wrong person as the criminal in 70 percent of the cases that have now been cleared. In 43 percent of those cases, the person identifying the alleged criminal was of a different race. Astoundingly, in 32 percent of the cases, the same person was incorrectly identified multiple times.
Who is most at risk? When looking just at those who were cleared by DNA evidence, 215 of those falsely imprisoned were African Americans, while 105 were Caucasian. Two of them were Asian Americans, and 25 were of Latino descent.
Have you been accused of a crime that you didn't commit? This can be incredibly frightening, especially when thinking of the thousands of collective years served by those who were falsely imprisoned and then cleared. You should always make sure that you know your rights and defense options.
Source: Innocence Project, "DNA Exonerations in the United States," accessed Dec. 29, 2016