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Report: why criminal suspects need diligent defense counsel

The critically important need for a criminal suspect in Missouri or anywhere else to secure the prompt and strong representation of a knowledgeable defense attorney was further underscored this week by a report on criminal exonerations.

What that report centrally notes concerning state and federal criminal charges is that investigators and prosecutors make mistakes -- lots of them.

In fact, the National Registry of Exonerations -- a joint project of two law schools -- states that the number of people released from prisons across the country last year owing to wrongful convictions was the highest number in well more than 20 years.

That is likely disturbing to people across a broad swath of American life. The report’s author calls the increased exoneration rate “a pretty significant trend” and notes “more public awareness of the fallibility of prosecutors and investigators.”

The errors leading to wrongful imprisonment span a wide spectrum and are often committed by multiple parties involved in the investigation and prosecution of an alleged crime. A constancy over recurring measuring periods has been that the majority of wrongful convictions attach to persons charged with murder and sexual assault.

The registry report indicates that there were 87 exonerations across the country in 2013. Many readers might find it surprising to note that DNA evidence was not instrumental in a majority of cases. Nearly seven of every 10 exonerations owed largely to other evidence.

What might strike a number of readers as equally unsurprising is that false accusations and perjury commonly featured in cases resulting in suspects’ false convictions.

The report certainly highlights the need for any person arrested on a criminal charge to secure the assistance of a proven criminal defense lawyer.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, "Criminal exonerations at all-time high," Jacob Gershman, Feb. 4, 2014

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