Innocent until proven guilty

By Editorial Board

As reported in this issue of The Chronicle, the number of wrongful convictions based on false confessions or mistaken witness identification is a serious problem in Illinois.

The technological advances made in forensics make DNA testing nearly infallible, and it should be the primary source of evidence whenever possible.

In some cases, however, DNA evidence is not uncovered during the investigation, so there is a justifiable need for other forms of evidence to identify criminal offenders.

But the issues surrounding these identification methods must be corrected.

There is no reason full interrogations should not be recorded along with the final confession, as Illinois has done since 2004. This would go a long way in preventing any illegal or immoral interrogation methods and could help lower the number of false confessions.

Furthermore, every possible part of an investigation should be recorded or documented to the highest degree. It is not a mistrust of police officers or their work that leads to this conclusion but rather low confidence in the overall processes of the justice system and

prosecutorial procedures.

The other major flaw that causes so many wrongful convictions is likely erroneous eyewitness testimony.

The New Jersey Supreme Court has given us a great example of how easily this can be fixed. The justices recently issued a ruling that makes it easier for defendants to challenge eye-witness testimony and requires juries to be instructed about its deficiencies.

It is no secret that human memory is not perfect. We make mistakes and are all the more human for it. But mistakenly identifying an offender can mean putting the wrong person behind bars for years.

While eyewitness testimony is useful in some cases, it has moved away from its original goal. It should be used less as a way for prosecutors to come up with a defendant and return to being a fail safe for defenders trying to discredit an unreliable eyewitness.

In fact, it seems the entire justice system has made this same mistake. This country attempted to create a process of justice in which guilt must be proven, and until it is, innocence is assumed.

It now seems that a prosecuting attorney has a much easier time proving their case through the use—or misuse—of unreliable evidence.

We need to return to a place where evidence must clearly prove beyond a doubt that the offender is indeed guilty and not a victim in his or her own right because of a

justice system that needs improvement.