Ever since the late 1980s, people have had to look at criminal convictions a little bit differently. This is because DNA evidence was starting to be used in exonerations.
Specifically, 1989 saw the first exoneration based on DNA evidence. This means that an individual was convicted in court and served some amount of time behind bars before DNA evidence could be analyzed and showed that they should never have been convicted to begin with. There is no way to get that time back – many people serve years or decades before being cleared – but the conviction can be overturned.
Naturally, this called into question many convictions that happened before this time, as well. Just how often does the court get it wrong? How often is DNA evidence missed by the investigators, or how many convictions happen when the evidence needed to clear the person’s name simply was not found at the scene? The fact that hundreds of people have been exonerated now based on DNA shows that a significant amount of mistakes were made.
Why did these mistakes happen?
Mistakes in these criminal cases that lead to wrongful convictions happen for a lot of different reasons. In some instances, there are false confessions, often given by young people who were manipulated or intimidated by the police. In other cases, it turns out that eyewitnesses made the wrong identification, perhaps due to personal bias. In still other circumstances, forensic science was applied improperly.
But the fact of the matter is that DNA has opened the door to getting convictions overturned and taken off of people’s records. This can help to reduce the number of wrongful convictions, although they still happen consistently. Always make sure that you know what legal options you have.