A Stacked Deck: Wrongful Convictions and Evidence Tampering
Tampering with evidence to force a conviction is a crime, but one that rarely visits a significant punishment on the prosecutors, law enforcement and judges that commit these offenses. The innocent go to jail. The guilty move on. Criminal defense lawyers in Pennsylvania struggle with the blinders public servants put themselves when they believe the person they’ve charged is the guilty party to the exclusion of all others. Justice may be blind, but her servants need to see straight or an accident is going to happen. Here’s why laws need to change, and change now.
Penalties for False Evidence are Light
Wrongly convict a man of a felony offense on false evidence, allow him to spend decades behind bars, and maybe get a misdemeanor charge for doing so. The criminal penalty for ruining someone’s life is so light it’s a farce, a laughable loophole in the Pennsylvania Criminal Code. Providing false reports or evidence to law enforcement is a second or third degree misdemeanor in the state (§ 4906) punishable by a maximum fine of $5,000 and imprisonment not to exceed two years. The total absence of real penalty for an injustice is staggering.
The Statute of Limitations is Too Short
After a wrongful conviction, the guilty have an uphill battle to have their appeals heard and the false evidence shown for what it truly is. Imagine a life where a runaway prosecutor has used made-up evidence and testimony to railroad you into prison for 10 or 20 years. There’s no presumption of innocence for the convicted. From the day, the jury renders its verdict, the burden shifts to the newly minted convict to disprove their culpability. Tough to do from inside a cell.
While there’s no statute of limitations on finding new evidence that frees the wrongly imprisoned, the SOL on holding the prosecutorial team accountable is painfully short – three years. Unlike medical malpractice or other personal injury claims, there’s no discovery rule to extend the statute for this offense. This means the clock on the statute can run out long before defense attorneys discover the misconduct. Authorities avoid criminal responsibility – again – because providing false testimony or evidence is only a misdemeanor.
Justice for the Wrongfully Convicted
For those who’ve lost years of their lives to wrongful convictions, legal teams work tirelessly crafting appeals and uncovering the tampering that swayed their juries to convict them in the first place. While a release from prison won’t bring back the disappeared years, it can begin to correct the terrible injustice done. We can also work to hold authorities civilly liable for their actions, up to and including disbarment. Something similar occurred in the aftermath of the Duke University lacrosse case where prosecutor Mike Nifong was disbarred for his conduct in levying serious rape charges at lacrosse players without real supporting evidence. The North Carolina State Bar would go on to file ethics charges against the former prosecutor. He served one day in jail, and paid a $500 fine, on a contempt of court charged related to his conduct in the Duke matter.
If you’ve been charged with a crime, you have the right to a rigorous defense to clear your name. Call a criminal defense lawyer today, and lay down the heaviest weight on your mind.