Tactics the State can use to avoid Wrongful Convictions
July 17, 2020
Cognitive scientists have greatly helped us understand wrongful convictions. It is now universal knowledge that human perception is not objective. Perceptions and behavioural patterns of general people have been studied by scientists. And it is proven that human has a general tendency to believe what majority people believe, that would apply any critical analysis of their own and would just go with the trend.
It also happens in criminal cases, India is a major example of masses being manipulated by the media. Indian people would believe a person to be a criminal if the media wants to portray him like one. Therefore, the situation worsens if the government in power follows Jeremy Bentham’s Utilitarian theory which suggests legislature to make laws which keep masses happier. As it is a well-known fact, the judiciary is also influenced by politics, consequently, justice lags behind.
Article 21 of The Constitution of India lays provisions for Right to life and Liberty. This tends to right to be prevented from wrongful conviction of a person who is not guilty of an offence. A remedy can be sought under this article against unlawful conviction.
Roots of Unlawful Conviction
There are following reasons or root which leads to a wrongful
conviction. Once the very root, where the problem lies is known, the state can
overcome the issue of wrongful conviction:-
Criminal Prejudice Those having a criminal history become a victim of prosecution.
Political Pressure or Interference Often dirty politics is played upon an individual where the case involves high profile personalities and leaders.
In the famous Unnao Rape Case, the victim sought the help of media and ultimately the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh for a fair trial of her case. Without their assistance, the influential, accused leader couldn’t be convicted.
Communalism When one party belongs to the lower or backward class, even judiciary, whose role is to provide pure justice without any biases, is seen to be biased in several cases.
The infamous Akshardham Terror Case of 2002, all of the 6 convicts were Muslims, they were sentenced to imprisonment for 10 years, before their acquittal by Apex Court in the lack of evidence.
Fabricated evidence In India, there has been a long trend where prosecution produced false evidence.
Falseconfession It has been seen that is some cases, a false confession is produced as evidence before the court, though; it fails the provisions of law.
In 2016, the Supreme Court acquitted Nisar-ud-din Ahmad after 23 years of imprisonment; he was booked for terrorism offences. In a report to BBC, he told that he was tortured and was forcefully made to sign a fabricated confession of his crime.
Misuse of laws or legal remedies There is a maxim in law- where there is a right, there is a remedy. But some people or prosecution takes unlawful advantage of the remedy provided by law. There have been following cases which put light on it:-
In 2017, Allahabad high court observed that some women are taking advantage of section 498A of IPC to punish their husband and in-laws wrongfully. So, the court recommended constituting a committee to screen whether there is an authentic case of cruelty or not.
In 2018, the Apex court observed that cases of wrongful imprisonment regarding abuse of SC/STs or reserved category have increased. Thus, as to protect the misuse of The SC/STs (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, the court decided that there would be no immediate arrest of the person unless the case is fully scrutinized.
Misidentification by an eye-witness As Bentham said, witnesses are the eyes and ears of justice. But it has often been seen that witness could not identify the accused and subsequently an innocent get convicted.
Wrong forensic reports In a country like India, technology is below par. Thus, many times medical reports like DNA samples, Finger-prints etc. are proved to be false.
Wrongful prosecution The prosecution always tries to convict the accused, many a times reason is not to provide justice to the victim but to make name and fame.
Punishment is the only motive of prosecution It does not matter to them if they are actually convicting an offender or not.
Defendant offered a family witness.
Lying by a non-eyewitness.
A weak defence.
Practices to cure the root of stated problems regarding Unlawful Convictions
Reforms regarding the police investigation By developing investigative practices that continuously challenge the unwarranted assumption shared by witnesses, investigators and attorneys that we are always right.
Improvement in the quality of legal representation for the poor.
Reforms for misidentification by an eye-witness S.188 of the Indian Evidence Act states that all witnesses should be testified unless there is a legal disability. The defence must have access to the witness so that his client does not become a victim of misrepresentation or false statements whether intentional or not.
New scientific methods for proving innocence should be developed and researched.
Access to all evidence against the accused The defence lawyer should personally scrutinize the evidences to be produced before the court against the accused so that any discrepancy or forgery can be identified. More research must be done on the part of the defence lawyer in this regard.
Presumption of innocence It is a well-recognised law under Indian judiciary that until proven guilty the accused shall be presumed innocent.
Emotional Approach Indian society is very much influenced by emotions. Where it is a question of proving innocence, the good character and good deeds are done by the accused shall be stated. Because the law is made for societal harmony and if the trust of masses can be won, it will lead to a good impact of the case of defence in future.
Media’s aid To influence masses and to show the character of the accused that a person like him cannot even dream to commit a crime shall be portrayed by the media. It will make the case or defence stronger.
Re-opening of cases If somehow, there happened to be a wrongful conviction. The defence should not fear to re-open the case, on the arrival of new witness or receiving new information which can overturn the conviction.
Winning the trust of judges It is another tactic to avoid wrongful conviction. The nature and behaviour of judges should be analysed and ultimately practise to win their confidence and trust in the accused, that he is not guilty, shall be done.
Overturn wrongful prosecution Loopholes should be found out in the story and evidence produced by the prosecutor when he wrongfully tries to convict the accused.
Critical analysis The defence should always critically analyse the situation and the statements laid down by the prosecutor to convict the accused.
Prevention of investigation biases by police officer at trial.
Learning from errors and misses.
Law and Wrongful Convictions
There are provisions laid down in International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Under Article 14(6), it is stated that whoever is guilty of wrongful conviction (miscarriage of justice) shall provide compensation, a heavy penalty shall be imposed on the defaulters.
In the case of Indian Space Research Organisation scientist, Nambi Narayanan, he was granted Rs 50 lakh by the apex court, after fighting a battle to prove his innocence for 24 years.
The Law Commission Report no. 277 titled WrongfulProsecution (Miscarriage of Justice): Legal Remedy” –(August 2018)- pointed out shortcomings in Criminal Justice System in India. It gives an overview of remedies to be sought in case of wrongful convictions like redressal of cases of wrongful conviction by providing monetary and non-monetary compensation to the victim. Also, to set up Special Courts for the purpose of calculation of the amount of compensation and authenticity of the claim of compensation is recommended by the commission.
To conclude, it can be said that the Indian Judiciary system though independent, is too much influenced by high profile personalities and political interference. This is a major issue behind wrongful convictions. But if proper measures and critical thinking is done by the defence, wrongful convictions can be avoided.