By Dick Blanchard, Executive Director, Advocates 4 Wrongfully Convicted
In 2011 The Innocence Project issued a report stating there were 100,000+ innocent people in U.S. prisons that had been wrongfully convicted of crimes they did not commit. There are other organizations that state higher numbers. A couple of months after the Innocence Project released its report a study by Ohio State University stated they believed 10,000 people were wrongfully convicted every year. Does this mean juries got it wrong 10,000 times every year? Probably not! For many of those 10,000 cases were probably plea bargains, meaning that innocent people were willing to take a lesser sentence than risk a trial by jury which could and probably would result in a much greater sentence if convicted. Suppose that of those 10,000 people 1,000 rolled the dice and took their change with a trial by jury. This means all 1,000 of these people were wrongfully convicted by 1,000 different juries.
Before addressing the potential causes of why these juries got it wrong let’me state that I believe the vast majority of people called to perform their civic duty of serving on a jury take this responsibility seriously and try to reach the correct and just decision. But we know in spite of this dedication by juries, approximately 1,000 of them got it wrong and send 1,000 innocent people to prison each and every year.
Causes for Jury Mistakes
These are some of the causes I feel why juries make wrong decisions:
- During jury selection both the prosecution and defense try to stack the jury with people they believe will be more likely to believe their version of the crime or to be more specific their version of “The Story.” So we’re not always getting a jury that is totally objective and unbiased.
- Jurors are human beings and as such have feelings and emotions. Even though judges instruct jurors to vote specifically on the evidence presented it is often difficult for jurors to totally disregard their emotions. I have talked with people who state it would be extremely difficult to put their feelings aside and weigh just the evidence when there is a defendant sitting in court that they believe to be a “monster” and has been charged with a hideous crime. Let me review 3 well known cases and look at how the jury voted in each and did they get it right. A) The OJ Simpson Case – many people felt the race card was played in this case and that is why Mr. Simpson was acquitted, but is that the real reason? Let me state I felt Mr. Simpson was guilty, but who put on the better case, the prosecution or the defense. My opinion is the defense did using many of the tricks prosecutors use to obtain wrongful convictions. So did this jury get it wrong? Possibly but that defense, right or wrong was able to convince that jury there was reasonable doubt and if the jury felt reasonable doubt they had to vote not-guilty in spite of what I believed. Would a more educated and knowledgeable jury been able to see through the defense’s trick when it came to DNA, possibly and the jury decision might have been different. A great many white people also believed if the jury had more whites on it the decision would have been different. So you can see based on the makeup of that jury how their decision was made. Did feelings and emotions play a part of the decision; probably. B) The Scott Peterson Case C) The Casey Anthony Case