An Analysis of Issues at Pre-Trial Proceedings Leading to Wrongful Convictions in "No Crime" Cases: There Was No Crime, but They Did the Time

By Zakirova, Irina | Albany Law Review, Spring 2019 | Go to article overview

An Analysis of Issues at Pre-Trial Proceedings Leading to Wrongful Convictions in "No Crime" Cases: There Was No Crime, but They Did the Time


Zakirova, Irina, Albany Law Review


I. INTRODUCTION

Wrongful conviction is a term used to describe a situation when an innocent individual is wrongly accused and convicted for a crime that he or she did not commit. (1) However, there are cases where an innocent individual was wrongly accused and convicted of a crime that did not even occur. (2) To date, such cases fall under the umbrella of wrongful convictions and are known as the "no crime" cases. (3) So far, more than a third of wrongful conviction cases and later exonerations were for a crime that did not take place. (4) This illustrates the flaws of the criminal justice system: not only are those within the system blind to who is innocent and who is guilty, but they are also blind as to whether or not a crime occurred. Thus, this paper seeks to define the no crime phenomenon and further explain how an accident, suicide, or a fabricated crime can be wrongly determined to be a crime before adjudication leading to a wrongful conviction.

II. DEFINING NO CRIME CASES

According to the National Registry of Exonerations, no crime cases are cases that were either an accident, (5) a suicide, (6) or a fabricated crime (7) that was mistaken for a crime before adjudication (8) and led a wrongful conviction of actually innocent persons. (9) To date, there are 860 no crime cases out of 2,366 exonerations, which accounts for about 36%. (10)

According to Bluhm Legal Clinic, the majority of those who were wrongfully convicted in no crime cases were women. (11) Whereas, when it comes to exonerations, the major indicator of innocence, DNA evidence was able to reveal the innocence of a woman in around 3% of cases, compared to 22% among men. (12) This goes along with the types of crimes that individuals were convicted for, where men are convicted of crimes where DNA evidence was either the only evidence that was lacking and as a result led to wrongful convictions, or was erroneous. (13)

Continually, there is a distinct pattern between the types of crimes that individuals were wrongly convicted for and which in turn did not occur since, in reality, they were either an accident, a suicide or a fabricated crime. (14) The present article will examine a number of these to identify and analyze issues that occurred before adjudication and have led to wrongful conviction.

A. Accidents

Accidents occur daily, but there are those that fall on the border between being ruled an accident or a crime. (15) According to the National Safety Council, accidental deaths have been on the rise "and are currently the third leading cause of death behind heart disease and cancer." (16) In addition, the victims' own homes become the place where they are most likely to die accidentally, followed by an accidental death in a motor vehicle, in the public, and the least common, the workplace. (17) However, experts argue that society is not familiar with accidental deaths, and therefore, does not do much to help prevent it, let alone being able to distinguish it from a crime. (18) Therefore, society relies on police investigators and forensic experts to gather sufficient evidence before adjudication. (19)

Among the experts coming on the scene are forensic experts who access the evidence at the crime scene that can support or eliminate the belief that the incident is a crime. (20) However, to date, there are cases where experts did not distinguish between an accident and a crime which led to wrongful conviction. (21) As a result, misleading and false forensic evidence accounts for 23% of wrongful conviction cases. (22) Scholars examining expert tactics for gathering evidence find that certain tests that they conduct with the evidence have flaws and are in need of further development. (23) Among the most common is forensic serology, where the experts have tested blood and fluids that may have been accidentally mixed with the victim's and the perpetrator's, leading to an erroneous result. (24) In addition, based on this flawed result, the expert's testimony in court also significantly impacts the jury's decision, and the expert's inclusion or exclusion of the defendant. …

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