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Punishing the Innocent: An Insight into the Wrongfully Convicted

Abstract:

The Indian Justice System is embedded in certain fundamental ideals and concepts. It is founded on the underlying principle an accused is innocent unless proven guilty. Nevertheless, there have been documented cases in the media and news when individuals have been exonerated after enduring wrongful convictions over extended periods of time. This diminishes the trust of the general population, causing them to perceive the system as a tool that strips them of their livelihood and respect, rather than safeguarding it. The criminal justice system has faced a persistent challenge in recent years due to the rising incidence of erroneous convictions, under-trial detainees, and wrongful incarcerations. The research article seeks to identify the primary determinants that contribute to incorrect convictions, analyze their societal implications and repercussions, evaluate the available strategies and solutions, and propose measures to mitigate the occurrence of false convictions.

Keywords:

Under-trial prisoners, rights of accused, public atrocities, wrongful convictions, Indian Justice System, Miscarriage of Justice.

Introduction

“If the misery of the poor is caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin.”-Charles Darwin.

These remarks accurately illustrate the indispensability of laws. Laws are authoritative directives established to facilitate societal functioning and govern human behaviour.   Law serves as a tool for the administration of justice and the preservation of equality within society. Typically, individuals belonging to marginalized and susceptible communities are subjected to harsh and unfair practices, and the legal system aims to improve their conditions. In order to avoid an unjust conviction, the criminal procedural law sets forth several crucial concepts, such as the presumption of innocence, the privilege to remain silent, and the responsibility to prove guilt. Nevertheless, the rising prevalence of erroneous convictions and imprisonment in India indicates that the existing rules are ineffective in averting such miscarriages of justice.

The notion of “nemo judex causa sua” is not only a fundamental aspect of natural justice, but it is also explicitly stated in legal literature and forms the foundation of a proper trial. If such an action is not carried out, it becomes a manifestation of a miscarriage of justice. Wrongful convictions, the brutal result of a faulty system, have the capacity to irreversibly ruin lives, leaving a terrible path of injustice in their wake. It seeks to untangle the intricate web of reasons that allow for such heinous mistakes, from systemic inadequacies to the inescapable cost exacted on innocent lives. As we delve into the history of injustice, it starts to become clear that erroneous convictions are not limited to a single country, but rather a challenge that crosses borders. In this investigation of the intricate tapestry of wrongful arrests and convictions, we will go through stories of misery and strength, analyzing the multifaceted strands that mesh together to trap the innocent.

Research Methods and Methodology

The research is a doctrinal analysis of existing rules and case laws in India to investigate various aspects of wrongful conviction. The proposed research paper is based on secondary data and includes quantitative data from sources such as court records, crime statistics, and wrongful conviction databases. The research will be conducted by analyzing how laws and the inner biases of the criminal system affect the prevalence of false convictions with the help of case laws.

Literature Review

The scholarly study on wrongful detention and conviction encompasses multiple legal systems, offering valuable insights into the intricate aspects of this significant issue.    Every sovereign nation confronts the difficulties posed by unjust persecution. It is well acknowledged that there is a correlation between conviction rates and deterrents in society. However, the release of actual criminals has an indirect impact on deterrence.   The majority of scholarly publications concentrate on the examination of plea bargaining, emphasizing its capacity to impair the efficacy of legal counsel. The present articles emphasize the psychological ramifications of wrongful conviction and propose remedies such as issuing public declarations and offering reparation through legislative means. They recognize the societal disapproval faced by victims, yet highlight the significant resources needed to implement these measures, offering essential insight into the complexities of recovery.

The historical occurrences of wrongful convictions underscore the persistent challenges within the criminal justice system. The latest advancement in the legal system stipulates that characteristics like as race, caste, class, and religion exert a significant influence on conviction rates. The works examine the difficulties faced by defense lawyers, specifically addressing the repercussions of managing a high volume of cases while having little financial means. Especially in the context of India, there is an emphasis on the disproportionate impact on marginalized communities. There is an inherent connection between unjust conviction and human rights. In general, the papers provide a comprehensive analysis of wrongful detention and conviction, encompassing various geographical and legal contexts. They illuminate the fundamental faults inside the system, propose remedies, and underscore the necessity for a nuanced understanding of the intricate relationship between wrongful convictions and broader societal concerns in the realm of criminal justice. This study presents a nuanced viewpoint on the consequences of wrongful convictions on overall crime prevention. 

The Main Body Of The Text

One terrible phantom throws a long, haunting shadow in the labyrinthine arena of justice, where the balances measure the destiny of individuals and society alike: the wrongful conviction. Illegal detentions and incarceration not only result in the deprivation of time and energy but also subject victims to social alienation and marginalization upon their release. These are not statistical oddities, but the stories of actual people, whose dreams have been overshadowed by the harsh, cruel walls of a cell in a prison.[1] Each instance serves as a grim reminder that justice, while intended to be unbiased, frequently blunders in its quest for truth.

In 2019, Madhumala Das was wrongfully imprisoned and detained for three years at a detention institution for a crime she did not commit. Her daughter, who was both deaf and mute, roamed the hamlet in search of her mother, and quickly experienced distress. The investigation revealed that the case was a result of a ‘mistaken identity’. Madhumala’s life was adversely affected for a period of three years as a result of her unfortunate similarity to the murderer.

Six individuals implicated in the Akshardham terror case together submitted a claim for compensation due to their illegal confinement, however, the Supreme Court rejected their claim. Following nearly ten years of legal proceedings, the presiding judge ultimately acquitted them on all charges.

Though there are many different definitions given by scholars across the world, there is no fixed definition of wrongful conviction. Wrongful conviction refers to the incorrect conviction of a defendant, which is discovered during a later investigation or appeal.   It is a regrettable situation in which persons are unjustly accused, set up, and incarcerated, resulting in the loss of several years of their lives spent behind bars, although they are innocent. The psychological distress, financial harm, and damage to their reputation persist even after being exonerated with integrity. In the words of Duhaime’s Law Dictionary, “A wrongful conviction is a conviction of a person accused of a crime that, as a result of the subsequent investigation, proves to be erroneous.”[2] Wrongful, in this context, refers to situations where the investigation, confession recording, witness identification, and right-to-counsel regulations are not adhered to, or where the conviction seems to be influenced by bias, prejudice, or non-compliance with constitutional protections. The conviction in this context refers to the situation when either the Trial Court or the first Appellate Court has made an incorrect decision in the post-adjudication stage of the case.

Causes of wrongful conviction

Wrongful convictions represent the terrible confluence of human frailty, systemic flaws, and the obsessive quest for finality at any cost. No criminal justice system in the world is exempt from fallibility. In addition, it has been noted that Indian courts are overwhelmed, leading to significant delays and unfavourable circumstances for the parties concerned. For underprivileged individuals or those who are economically insecure, access to justice seems to be a remote and unattainable concept. An individual who has been wrongly convicted experiences a distressing process, starting from their initial encounter with the police and continuing during their frequent appearances in court, which repeatedly infringes against their fundamental human rights. With the help of official crime records and court data, a few repeating themes and patterns were discovered that are connected with wrongful convictions, which are presented below:

  1. Eyewitness Misidentification: Misidentification of the culprit by eyewitnesses is one of the most common circumstances contributing to erroneous convictions. Stress, fear, and other variables may influence witnesses, resulting in incorrect identifications.[3]
  2. Inadequate Legal Representation: Insufficient attorney representation for the accused is frequently linked to wrongful convictions. Inadequately financed lawyers or inexperienced attorneys may be unable to carry out an effective case, elevating the odds of an erroneous conviction. Ineffective Alibi Verification, failure to research and verify alibis correctly might result in unjust convictions. Alibi witnesses may not be interrogated, and supporting evidence may be ignored.
  3. Post-Conviction Issues: Individuals who have been convicted may find it extremely difficult to prove their innocence. The appeals procedure can be sluggish and cumbersome, and some people may spend years or decades in prison before fresh evidence emerges.
  4. Inadequate Compensation: Even after being exonerated, falsely convicted individuals may find it difficult to rebuild their lives. Compensation and support services are frequently inadequate, putting individuals at a disadvantage.
  5. Instances of police wrongdoing, such as evidence tampering, forceful interrogation techniques, and subconscious prejudices, have all contributed to false convictions.

These are the major factors that contribute to wrongful convictions in the Indian scenario.[4] The fundamental concept of the Indian legal system is that an accused is innocent unless proven guilty. However, systemic issues in our legal system contribute to erroneous convictions. Many people, particularly those from underprivileged areas, do not have access to adequate legal representation. Overburdened attorneys lack the requisite funds and time to build a strong defense. Police wrongdoing, such as falsifying evidence, and compelling admissions, plays a significant role in unjust convictions. Prosecutors’ unethical activity, such as suppressing evidence beneficial in favour of the defense or participating in malpractice during trials, also has the potential to result in unjust convictions.

Caste and class as dominant factors

According to data from the National Crime Record Bureau, more than 70% of convicts in India are awaiting their trials. The vast majority of these people are youthful men and women, between the ages of 18 and 30. Younger people, particularly individuals from disenfranchised communities, are vulnerable to false convictions due to a lack of knowledge about the judicial system and their legal rights. More than 65% of undertrial convicts are from the SC, ST, or OBC groups.[5] The majority of the people in custody appear to be too impoverished to pay the bail.  In India, socioeconomic class, caste, and demographic factors all play a significant role in the occurrence of unjust convictions. Individuals from low-income families frequently lack the ability to afford exceptional legal representation. People who are experiencing financial distress may be more subject to intimidation by law enforcement, resulting in false confessions. Caste discrimination can impact policing choices in India, resulting in profiling and arbitrary detentions based on caste identification. Migrant workers frequently experience difficulties navigating the judicial system, increasing their vulnerability to erroneous convictions. In some cases, law enforcement may be under pressure to handle cases fast, resulting in hasty investigations and perhaps false convictions.

Consequences and Implications

Erroneous convictions tend to have far-reaching implications that affect not just the wrongfully convicted individuals, but also the society as a whole. Individuals wrongfully convicted and their families face physical, psychological, and financial hardship. Having to serve time for a crime they had nothing to do with can be traumatic. It has long-term consequences for the victim, his family, and society. Following their release from prison, they continue to experience public shame and discrimination, making reintegration into society difficult. Further, wrongful convictions undermine public confidence in the criminal justice system. When innocent people are convicted, it casts doubt on the system’s impartiality and dependability. People’s faith in the legitimacy of the system will inevitably dwindle over time. Furthermore, as the innocent are punished for their actions, criminals may be pushed to engage in more deviant behaviour.

Case Laws

“Even if numerous individuals guilty of murder are released, not a single innocent person should be incarcerated.”- William Blackstone. This statement emphasizes the need to safeguard the rights of those who are not guilty.   Ensuring the protection of the innocent from wrongful convictions is crucial, while still maintaining the responsibility to hold the guilty accountable for their crimes.   The justice system should endeavor to achieve equilibrium between these two concepts.

In the case of Babloo Chauhan v N.C.T Delhi[6], the Delhi High Court determined that wrongful conviction constitutes a type of miscarriage of justice. The court emphasized the need for a legal framework to prevent wrongful incarceration and prosecution, and to offer appropriate remedies for those who have been unfairly convicted. Wrongful conviction is a prevalent affliction inside our criminal justice system. In India, as an inquisitorial system, the prosecution has the burden of proving an individual’s guilt in a crime. However, frequently in the fervor of pursuing justice, it erroneously penalizes and brings legal action against the incorrect person, which is significantly more severe.

In the case of Bibhabati Devi v. Ramendra Narayan Roy[7], the Privy Council determined that deviating from the fundamental principles that underlie all judicial procedures can render the subsequent proceedings invalid and not considered true “judicial procedures”. In such a scenario, a violation of law or procedure can occur, leading to an incorrect interpretation or the conviction of an innocent individual due to the negligence of law enforcement officers.

In the case of Ram Lakhan Singh v. State Government of Uttar Pradesh[8], the Supreme Court held that when someone is wrongly prosecuted, it violates their fundamental right as a person. It constitutes a transgression of the legal procedure. In such cases, the courts have the authority to compel the State to provide compensation to the injured individual as a means of rehabilitating them and serving as a deterrent to others.

The case of Hussainara Khatun and Others v Home Assistant State of Bihar[9] is a legal petition submitted to the Supreme Court, seeking a writ of habeas corpus. This petition highlighted the distressing conditions faced by individuals awaiting trial in Bihar. The Supreme Court has determined that the right to a prompt trial is essential for the equitable dispensation of justice in any nation.

Redressal Mechanisms

The Indian Legal System employs a few mechanisms to prevent wrongful convictions, which include:

  1. Presumption of innocence: The fundamental premise of “innocent until proven guilty” is ingrained in our judicial system. The prosecution bears the burden of proving that the defendant is guilty beyond any reasonable doubt under this presumption.
  2. Defendants possess the right to legal representation, and if individuals are unable to afford a lawyer, such a lawyer must be provided for them. Competent legal representation is essential for a fair trial.
  3. Defendants retain a legal right to choose to stay silent as well as cannot be coerced into testifying against themselves. This right aids in the prevention of coerced confessions.

Despite these provisions, India is the 6th nation in the world with the highest no of undertrial prisoners. There is a need to prevent this gruesome miscarriage of justice and to adhere to the plea of the victims.[10]

According to Article 14 (6) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, governments are required to establish a legal system that ensures compensation and rehabilitation for individuals who have been unjustly persecuted by the government.   This provision, which has been implemented by numerous countries worldwide, except for India despite being a party to the treaty, is based on a fundamental and inherent principle: If a State, while exercising its sovereign powers, unlawfully deprives an individual of their life or freedom, it is obligated to provide redress. The State must provide restitution for the prolonged anguish and deprivation of human rights endured by the wrongly incarcerated individuals. This part has been adopted by numerous governments worldwide, although India while being a party to the treaty, has not yet implemented it.

In its 277th report, the Law Commission of India proposed that the Indian state should acknowledge the right to liberty through the enactment of a statute. It has established a structure for determining remuneration and quantifying the financial worth of the harm suffered by an individual in the event of unjust legal proceedings. Nonetheless, the Law Commission of India emphasizes that the basis for compensation should be unjust prosecution rather than unjust imprisonment or unjust conviction. It focuses exclusively on issues of wrongful prosecution and does not address wrongful conviction cases.

Analysis and Recommendations

New policies must be implemented by analyzing the commonalities and trends that are prominent in the Indian context of incorrect convictions, the inherent weaknesses in the current system, and the socioeconomic and demographic trends influencing conviction.[11] This could include efforts to provide adequate legal representation, prompt trials, and reimbursement for the mistakenly convicted.  Promote policy reforms to ensure adequate financial resources are allocated for legal assistance, particularly for disadvantaged individuals. This may entail partnering with legal institutions and officials to improve the caliber of legal advocacy.  Propose measures to raise awareness regarding erroneous convictions among the population as a whole. Disseminating knowledge to individuals regarding their entitlements, the deficiencies in the system, and the consequences of unjust verdicts may result in heightened public examination and responsibility.

The analysis of outcomes and ramifications highlights the extensive influence of unjust convictions on citizens and society at large, underlining the need for prompt methods for addressing and resolving these issues. The inclusion of global viewpoints, such as Article 14 (6) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, highlights the necessity of providing compensation and rehabilitation to individuals who have been unfairly persecuted. There is a need to allocate sufficient funds to ensure that attorneys can offer adequate representation to all defendants, irrespective of their financial situation.  The Law Commission of India has previously stated in its 277th report titled “Wrongful Prosecution (Miscarriage of Justice): Legal Remedies” the fact that there ought to be an absolute requirement for the enactment of legislation that imposes an obligation on the state to reimburse or offer compensation to such innocent, and there is additionally a need for regulations to deliver for non-pecuniary awards to be paid to the innocent’s family members.

Conclusion

The long investigation into the terrible world of wrongful convictions has shown structural problems in our criminal justice system. An uncomfortable fact is shown via thorough research of case histories, empirical evidence, and a variety of scholarly sources: innocent people are still being imprisoned unjustly, their lives irrevocably ruined by a system created to protect them. This study emphasizes the critical need for substantial reforms at many phases of the criminal justice system as a whole. Finally, the information given here shows that resolving mistaken convictions is not only a moral issue; it is critical to the effectiveness of our criminal justice system. We can strive to create an environment where the pursuit of justice is not treated as a privilege but rather an inalienable right guaranteed to everyone by recognizing these inadequacies and actively seeking remedies. It is the responsibility of all of us to guarantee that the tragic experiences of those unfairly imprisoned are transformed into catalysts for significant change and that we as a society pursue justice for everyone with zeal.

In the quest for justice, we must be proactive in preventing and correcting erroneous convictions. To steer clear of errors and biases, enforcement agencies should use the latest advances in evidence-collecting and investigation tactics. Pressured Confessions can be reduced by implementing measures, such as videotaping, during interrogations. To limit the danger of misidentification, establish and implement consistent, evidence-based methods for performing eyewitness identifications. Consider establishing independent innocence commissions to investigate cases of wrongful convictions. To stave off manipulation or degradation of evidence over time, enforcing tight processes for retention of evidence, particularly biological samples. Further, by requiring law police officials to wear body cameras during encounters with the public, we can improve transparency and accountability. Implementing obligatory training programs to reduce unconscious prejudice and foster equitable policing throughout law enforcement institutions.


[1] Corpus, J. (2022b, February 1). WRONGFUL CONVICTION: a MISCARRIAGE OF JUSTICE – jus corpus.

[2] Sharma, A. (2022). Punishing the Innocent: Analysis of wrongful convictions in India. Journal on Contemporary Issues of Law,

[3] Anand, S. (2019, June 14). Eyewitness testimonies: a gateway to wrongful convictions- iPleaders.

[4] Center, D. P. I. (2019, June 11). DPIC analysis: Causes of wrongful convictions. Death Penalty Information Center.

[5] Rawat, M. (2022, April 5). Poor, young and illiterate: Why most Indian prisoners fight long lonely battles for justice. India Today.

[6] Babloo Chauhan v N.C.T Delhi, 247 (2018) DLT 31

[7] Bibhabati Devi v. Ramendra Narayan Roy AIR 1942 Cal 498

[8] Ram Lakhan Singh v. State Government of Uttar Pradesh, 2015

[9] Hussainara Khatoon & Ors. v. Home Secretary, State of Bihar [AIR 1979 SC 1369]00

[10] Hicks, W. D., Mullinix, K. J., & Norris, R. J. (2021). The politics of wrongful conviction legislation. State Politics & Policy Quarterly, 21(3), 306–325

[11] Banerjee, S. (2016, August 30). There must be a price to pay for wrongful convictions. The Wire. https://thewire.in/law/cops-judges-andterrorists

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