In many ways, criminal trials are about telling stories. A prosecutor’s job is to use the evidence the cops uncovered to secure a conviction by explaining to the jury what they believe happened.
To that end, the prosecutors will try to weave the evidence into a story. They want to convince the jury that the evidence all points to the guilt of the accused. Everything from an accused person’s motivation to their ability to commit the crime could be tied to the evidence presented.
The dangers of bad evidence
The problem with stories based on bad evidence is that they may still be convincing stories. Most jurists aren’t scientists, so they won’t always know the difference between good evidence and bad evidence. They’ll just weigh the prosecution’s argument against the defense’s argument and make their own decisions. The result is that innocent people are wrongly convicted.
We know this is the case because DNA tests have led to the exoneration of hundreds of people. According to the Innocence Project, DNA evidence has cleared 367 people of their crimes since 1989, despite the evidence that seemed to prove them guilty.
Some of the more eye-catching statistics include:
- 69% of the bad convictions involved bad eyewitness testimony
- 28% involved false confessions
- 44% involved bad forensics
It’s startling to think that more than two-thirds of the convicts were falsely accused by people who said they saw them at the crime scene. It’s possibly more startling to realize than more than one-quarter had confessed despite knowing they were innocent. And it goes to show just how few people fully understand the importance of working with a defense attorney who will question every aspect of the prosecution’s case.
4 types of evidence that aren’t as solid as you may think
During a trial, the prosecution is telling a story about the defendant’s guilt. They’re trying to make their claims sound like facts. They’re trying to make their evidence feel like solid, tangible objects that the jurists could reach out and touch. But much of the evidence the prosecution shares may not be as strong as they try to make it sound.
Here are four common problems with the types of evidence the prosecution might want to use:
- Eyewitness testimony is far less reliable than it is compelling. Although it’s often one of the most influential types of evidence brought to trial, eyewitness testimony is often flawed due to bias, poor visibility or bad police lineups.
- Confessions are hard to throw out, but false confessions are far more common than you might think. Police learn how to manipulate people during interrogations, and many people decide to confess rather than fight for their rights. This is often a mistake.
- Fingerprints can lead to false matches. Fingerprint analysis has been used as evidence for more than a hundred years, but recent cases have highlighted some flaws. There are limits to the field, and experts who overstep those limits may risk convicting innocent people.
- DNA evidence is the most reliable evidence we currently have available. Even so, it can be handled incorrectly. It’s important to understand the difference between simple samples and more complicated ones. And when labs handle their samples poorly, they risk confusing their results.
Of course, there are even more problems with the less reliable types of evidence that are often brought to trial. The U.S. government released two studies on forensic science, in 2009 and 2016, that called several types of evidence into question. And even when the science is valid, it’s important to remember the roles that people play. Contaminated crime scenes or bad interpretations can land innocent people in jail for many years.
The other side of the story
When you realize there are problems with even the best and seemingly strongest types of evidence, it’s clear that juries need to hear strong arguments from both sides at trial.
At Kammen & Moudy, we understand that evidence can be misinterpreted at trial. Juries need guidance to understand and evaluate the evidence put before them.