Michael Morton's wrongful conviction to exoneration
Christine Morton died more than 34 years ago, which implicated her husband, Michael Morton as the culprit who orchestrated the killing. For emphasis, Michael was wrongfully accused, which necessitated the need for him to plead not guilty. Further, he sought legal representation to prove his innocence. Significantly, Michael was sentenced to life imprisonment before being exonerated 25 years later because his wife's killer was brought to justice (Morton, 2015). According to Eric, his young son, a man with a bushy mustache killed her mother and not his father. The kid provided the statement to his grandmother; however, the pressing question touched on the real identity of the murder suspect. Significantly, the Williamson County prosecutor, Ken Anderson, took a step to engage in a shoddy prosecution resulting in the wrongful conviction of Michael Morton (Morton, 2015). The case presented a wrong picture to the judicial system in the United States because the proceedings of the case have been used as a benchmark to handle issues related to the wrongful convictions happening across the country.
After 25 years behind bars, a thorough DNA analysis managed to free Michael. Specifically, Christine received a thorough beating which led to her death in their family home. Critically analyzing the issue, it was wrong to allege that Michael was the key suspect in the murder case because he left the house for work early that morning (Polzer et al., 2014). At that time, Eric, who was the three-year-old son, argued that the man who killed his mom had no close resemblance to his father. Neighbors also reported about a man who lurked in the neighborhood. Adding to this, a canceled check was made out to Christine Morton, cashed with a forged signature (Morton, 2015).
Michael clearing his name
Michael Moron managed to clear his name and went back to court to argue that the prosecutor, Ken Anderson, should be charged because he misused his power to facilitate the sentencing of Morton to 25 years in prison. Michael Morton was accused of brutally murdering his wife, Christine Morton. In an interview, the innocent individual described the feeling of being released after 25 years. The feeling was alien because he did not feel real for a long time (Morton, 2015). Reverting to this case, Prosecutor Ken Anderson told the jury that Morton killed the wife because she refused to have sex with the alleged suspect. However, there was no murder weapon direct evidence linking Michael to the crime, yet the prosecutor argued persuasively, claiming that Morton was violent and unremorseful.
Significantly, Michael believed that there was a shred of evidence that would exonerate him. Ken Anderson decided to withhold the evidence (Garrett, 2017). The legal counsel was never allowed to access the police reports in the prosecutor's files. Specifically, Eric narrated the whole incidence to his grandmother, citing the murderer who killed his mother as a monster with a mustache and not Michael Morton. Adding to this, a neighbor saw a suspicious man pack a green car on the street before walking into the wooded area behind the Morton home. This was very crucial information that the prosecutor was legally and ethically obligated to disclose in the court of law.
Unfortunately, he developed the appetite to win the case by all means, and this saw him named the prosecutor of the year in 1987 (Morton, 2015). He later became a District Judge back in 2002 in the same court where Morton was convicted. The initiative by the Innocence Project to come up with a DNA analysis managed to exonerate Michael from the crime which was linked to the murder of his wife (Garrett, 2017). The test was conducted explicitly on a bloody bandana found on the crime scene. Significantly, Christine Morton's blood was found on the bandana and the DNA of Mark Allan Norwood, who was the actual perpetrator. Allan was involved with another murder after Christine's incident. The members of the Innocence project believe Anderson deliberately withheld the evidence for probable cause (Polzer et al., 2014). Subsequently, he violated court order among other state laws; however, he denied any misconduct issues.
How wrongful convictions occur
Several wrongful convictions have managed to get news or media coverage due to the exonerations facilitated by effective DNA analysis. In most cases, 60% of cases are linked to wrongful convictions concerning capital crimes. Another 6% of wrongful convictions happen in other crimes, according to a survey conducted on 3000 state prisoners in Pennsylvania. The major contributor to this research was the criminologist Charles Loeffler and his team, which became prosperous through the innocent project. According to the project, the evidence originating from DNA analysis accounts for a negligible percentage of criminal cases. The contributing factors to this problem are the nonexistent DNA evidence and the destruction of the evidence after the conviction. Consequently, it becomes challenging for people like Michael Morton to prove their innocence in a court of law. To understand the complexity of Michael's case, it is essential to discuss some of the major causes of wrongful convictions.
The misinterpretation of eyewitnesses is among the leading causes of wrongful convictions. This problem arises most of the time due to several crimes happening across the country. The crimes are analyzed in a hurry, and this can lead to eyewitness misinterpretation. Moreover, the individuals committing the crime manage to hide their identity, making it hard to identify the culprits. The tactic creates room for error during the identification of witnesses (Williams, 2019). At times, the suspect stands out more during the identification, and this contributes to more mistakes. The approach usually makes the witness very confident while identifying the suspect in a lineup or photo since they perceive the individual they see as the criminal. In other cases, the law enforcement officers have accidentally led the witness to identify the suspect, resulting in witnessing misinterpretation.
Most forensic scientists make wrong conclusions regarding the evidence due to flawed assumptions. Notably, the assumptions originate from gunshot residues, arson together with abusive head trauma cases. The evidence presented in courts is not usually monitored to establish the other possibilities, including exaggerations and inaccuracies (Williams, 2019). Furthermore, forensic science previously depended on bite marks and hair analysis to develop a shred of evidence. However, the approach was very unreliable because it could not be used to conclude a DNA testing. It is deplorable that the judges believe in the forensic experts who get the chance to present the evidence before the court.
False confessions are also one of the leading causes of wrongful conviction. These false confessions are usually provided by individuals suffering from mental illnesses and juveniles. At times, people with ill intentions against the suspect can give false confessions to punish the suspect. These individuals can be close and distant relatives, friends, among other witnesses (Williams, 2019). Significantly, the police officer usually coerces individuals during suspect interrogations instead of investigating the crime, subsequently resulting in false confession from the suspect. They manipulate the alleged criminals about the seriousness of the conviction. Eventually, suspects because are made to believe that the approach will reduce their sentence. In most cases, the confessions have accurate information about the crime since the police manage to feed the suspect with the information (Garrett, 2017).
Wrongful convictions also happen due to failure to disclose evidence deliberately or unintentionally. The information gathered during the investigation is not usually available to the defense lawyers. The issue forces them to intentionally disclose the available information that ends up convicting a suspect. Additionally, the prosecutors cannot see notes and files which come from the police. At times, the experts fail to miss crucial information which is linked to their cases (Garrett, 2017). They can also withhold the information if they believe the source is not credible. Other prosecutors engage in official misconduct to win the case because they have the appetite to maintain a good reputation using the cases. Subsequently, they engage in the tactical approach, which results in wrongful convictions.
Use of Informants
The police officers have managed to use informants to testify against murder suspects like Michael Morton. Achieving this requires law enforcement to approach a reluctant witness. The witnesses are motivated several benefits, including reduced sentence, dropped charges, among other promises. The strategy creates a platform for them to provide false information to get rewards (Garrett, 2017). The cunning informants develop a story that they had a confession from the suspects. Verifying this kind of information is very challenging, and that is why it leads to false convictions.
Any suspect targeting to be acquitted in a court of law must have good defense counsel to avoid wrongful conviction. Unfortunately, this is never the case at times if the lawyers lack adequate training. At times, the defense counsel lacks passion and sufficient resources to exonerate their clients from alleged crimes (Reamey, 2015). The courts usually give most suspects legal counsel. However, these experts handle a lot of cases coupled with issues of underpayment. These lawyers are not motivated to defend the suspects, which produces very negative results because they lack diligence, experience, and funds.
Preventing wrongful convictions
The justice department can incorporate appropriate measures to prevent wrongful convictions through eyewitness misinterpretation. Notably, the police department and the justice department can improve how to collect evidence from eyewitnesses. The principal participants in the trial should go through proper education. The approach will help them understand the impacts of eyewitness evidence on a case. There are two notable strategies to avoid wrongful convictions of suspects through eyewitness misinterpretation. The first technique involves engaging an expert witness to explain the importance of memory in front of the jurors. Adding to this, they are questions on the factors affecting the reliability of testimony, which happens before receiving a statement from the eyewitness. Consequently, the jurors avoid internalizing the notable elements of the testimony, which allows them to consider the testimony's probative value.
The second technique usually targets rectifying the different kinds of errors that result in the wrongful conviction of suspects. There are precisely three kinds of mistakes linked to the police while collecting evidence from the eyewitnesses. For instance, the law enforcement officer usually fails to gather crucial information from the eyewitnesses, compromising the criminal cases in courts (Reamey, 2015). At times, the police officer deliberately or unintentionally corrupts the memory of the eyewitness regarding the crime. Furthermore, police officers allow issues related to motivation bias which originates from pro-prosecution culture. Avoiding these problems requires the justice department and the police department to ensure the officers conducting eyewitness interviews have no information about the suspect. Consequently, it will prevent issues related to unconscious or subconscious incrimination. Moreover, the defense attorneys must avail themselves during the interviews to inform the court members about any improprieties during the eyewitness interviews (Polzer et al., 2014).
Importantly, forensic scientists should be competent to avoid issues like misstatements or misrepresentation of scientific evidence. All the statements presented in courts should be backed up with accurate data coupled with a clarified probative value. Achieving this requires forensic experts to avoid assumptions regarding the likelihood of a suspect's involvement in a crime (Reamey, 2015). Also, there should be educative programs to help prosecutors, judges, police, and defense attorneys understand more regarding the police informants. According to the justice project, special instructions regarding the unreliability of jailhouse informants should be administered to the jurors. The Center for Wrongful Convictions, which is based in Northwestern University School of Law, further highlights that hearsay issues can be reduced if all the incarcerated police informants are wired to collect information made by suspects.
Significantly, issues related to official misconduct can be solved through policies that prevent the recurrence of such problems, and this includes electronically recorded interrogations coupled with double-blind procedures to identify eyewitnesses. The Innocence Commission of Virginia believes that successful implementation of the policies will reduce the incidences of wrongful convictions (Reamey, 2015). Nevertheless, political scientist John Kingdon has stressed that change can only be achieved if the key stakeholders can implement the policies targeting to reduce the causes of wrongful convictions. Moreover, there should be structured costs to improve the accuracy of verdicts in courts. Subsequently, it will reduce the issues related to inadequate defense. Adding to this, there should be judicial depositions, access to evidence files together with mandatory evidence disclosure practices, and discovery expansion to reduce the causes of wrongful convictions due to inadequate defense (Reamey, 2015).
The fate of Ken Anderson
The District Judge was finally sentenced to 10 days in jail plus 500n hours of community service. Also, he was given a $500 fine and stripped of his law license. Ken Anderson was explicitly accused of withholding favorable evidence in the 1987 trial, which led to the imprisonment of Michael Morton for 25 years. The prosecution of Ken became historical in the United States because it was the first time a prosecutor was found guilty for criminal contempt, consequently resulting in the giving up of the license to practice law. This prosecution acted as a lesson to all the judges, prosecutors, and lawyers. According to Barry Scheck, Anderson could have done better by accepting he made a mistake instead of constantly blaming the system. Experts handling cases should do better to avoid wrongful convictions because they affect families and friends of the individuals who are wrongly accused.
Garrett, B. L. (2017). Actual innocence and wrongful convictions. Academy for Justice, A Report on Scholarship and Criminal Justice Reform (Erik Luna ed., 2017 Forthcoming).
Morton, M. (2015). Getting Life: An Innocent Man’s 25-Year Journey from Prison to Peace: A Memoir. Simon and Schuster.
Polzer, K., Nhan, J., & Polzer, J. (2014). Prosecuting the prosecutor: The makings of the Michael Morton Act. The Social Science Journal, 51(4), 652-658.
Reamey, G. S. (2015). The Truth Might Set You Free: How the Michael Morton Act Could Fundamentally Change Texas Criminal Discovery, or Not. Tex. Tech L. Rev., 48, 893.
Williams, K. (2019). The Pros and Cons of Texas's Michael Morton Act. S. Tex. L. Rev., 60, 267.
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