Wrongful convictions haunt prosecutors, victims as well as suspects

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Yesterday Injustice Watch highlighted the article by Jacqueline McMurtrie, who noted how commonly prosecutors will turn to far-fetched theories to try to justify convictions in the face of DNA evidence that the defendant was wrongly convicted. Today Injustice Watch highlights the work of Jeanne Bishop and Mark Osler, who explain why prosecutors fail to objectively recognize their errors.

“The implications of being wrong as a prosecutor – that someone will spend years in prison because of your error – is nearly unthinkable,” write Bishop and Osler. “The nature of this sobering task, inherent to the weight of judgment, explains both why prosecutors should care about wrongful convictions and why they sometimes hide exculpatory evidence or cling to a conviction even after it has been proven wrongful.”

Prosecutors, like crime victims and their families, “[b]oth are part of a process that systemically deepens their emotional commitment to a conviction, and that emotional commitment makes it harder to undo wrongful convictions,” Bishop and Osler write.

They would know: Osler, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas (MN), is a former prosecutor; Bishop, a Cook County assistant public defender, experienced the murder of her sister, her sister’s husband, and their unborn child in their Winnetka, IL. home by an intruder.

As Bishop and Osler observe, “All of criminal law is tragedy. Every bit of it is tragedy. It is difficult to be the person who is ground through the machinery of criminal law, but it is difficult and wearing to be the gears as well. “

Note: The Journal issue was published to commemorate a symposium on the Center of Wrongful Convictions that occurred to honor Rob Warden, who c0-founded and directed the Center for 15 years. Rob has gone on to become co-founder and co-director of Injustice Watch.