The large and growing number of DNA exonerations in recent years, including in Kentucky, has consistently indicated common factors that lead to wrongful convictions. These include: eyewitness misidentification, improper or invalidated forensic science, false confessions, informants or “jailhouse snitches,” government misconduct, and bad lawyering. It is important to note that only a small percentage of criminal cases involve biological evidence that can be tested for the presence of DNA. However, there is reason to believe that the same trends seen in the DNA exonerations also exist in non-DNA cases.
A study by the national Innocence Project (associated with the Cardozo Law School of Yeshiva University in New York) of the first 225 DNA exonerations found that each wrongful conviction is often caused by a combination of different contributing factors:
- Eyewitness misidentification: 235 cases
- Improper forensics: 154 cases
- False confessions: 88 cases
- Informants/snitches: 48 cases
While wrongful conviction statistics point out the weaknesses and shortcomings of the criminal justice system, its greatest strength is its ability to adapt—the system includes means by which improvements can be made. Systemic changes must be made in order to minimize the chances that an innocent person will be convicted of a crime and sent to prison for something they did not do. As unlikely as many people want to believe the conviction of innocents to be, innocent people have been sent to prison in Kentucky. Reform of the criminal justice system is necessary to prevent future wrongful convictions in the Commonwealth. Additionally, when an innocent person is convicted, the guilty party remains free to continue to prey upon society; therefore, any reform must include the goal of identifying, investigating and prosecuting the truly guilty individual(s).