“A prosecutor with a pen can put you in jail.” - Arthur Rizer, Director of Justice Policy & Senior Fellow at R Street Institute”
The horror of a wrongful conviction not only devastates the innocent person and his/her loved ones; it also has a negative impact on the criminal justice system at large, wasting valuable resources needed to protect public safety. These errors divert police from finding the real perpetrator and instead focus their investigation on an innocent person. Wrongful convictions put public safety at risk, undermine public confidence law enforcement, and prevent the achievement of justice.
It’s no accident that the framers of the U.S. Constitution included a series of protections for the accused. Our founding fathers had fresh memories of a government that accused people of crimes they didn’t commit and convicted them through unfair trials. To ensure these protections are not overlooked, police practice and prosecutorial reforms such as recording custodial interrogations, recording and regulating informant statements, and instituting evidence based eyewitness identification procedures will help protect the rights of the wrongly accused and reduce the likelihood that they will later be wrongfully convicted.
For example, prosecutor’s reliance on jailhouse informants has led to many instances of coerced confessions and incorrect statements that are used to incarcerate innocent individuals. There are several reasons why a witness might be compelled to provide untruthful testimony against an innocent bystander. The witness may have been promised cash or something else of value, such as leniency, reduced charges, or immunity from prosecution. All of these motives can be regulated by requiring the prosecution to disclose its arrangement with jailhouse informant witnesses to the defense, increasing transparency and public trust in our justice system.
As conservatives, we are well aware of the fact that the government doesn’t get things right one hundred percent of the time. At best, wrongful convictions are a waste of taxpayer resources used to unjustly deprive innocent individuals of their freedom. At worst, these cases represent government misconduct and abuse. The 5th Amendment states that no person shall be “deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” Reforms are necessary to preserve the framers’ intent behind the 5th Amendment - the prevention of government overreach and unjust deprivation of American life, liberty, and due process.