Why Wrongful Conviction Day?

Wrongful Conviction Day was first recognized in 2014, and was recently observed on October 4, 2016. Wrongful Conviction Day is an opportunity to honor those who have been wrongfully convicted, and to focus our attention on reforming the system to end wrongful convictions.

In 2016 the Center for Prosecutor Integrity highlighted the important role of investigators and detectives in collecting, compiling, and presenting the evidence that will eventually determine whether or not the suspect is found guilty. In his landmark article “Ethics for Investigators,” Arthur Aubry wrote:

“The ethical investigator will maintain at all times a completely objective attitude and impersonal approach towards his investigative duties and responsibilities; he will concentrate all of his skills and energies towards securing the truth of the matter under investigation.”

Unfortunately, some investigators are now being encouraged to discard notions of neutrality and objectivity, and instead “start by believing” the complainant. In some cases, investigators have disregarded key evidence, coerced witnesses, or even falsified the report to shore up their conclusions:

  • Wayne MartinIn the 1980s, a rash of wrongful convictions arose from the child sex abuse panic, where suggestive and coercive interviewing methods were commonplace.
  • Former NYPD detective Louis Scarcella reportedly coached witnesses, fabricated confessions, and persuaded persons to change their descriptions of perpetrators to match the prime suspect.

In a New York City case, Wayne Martin — pictured on the right — was the prime suspect in a 2005 double-homicide. But the police report revealed two witness had stated Martin was not the perpetrator. So a police detective took it upon himself to blank out these sentences from the report. As a result, Martin was convicted of the homicides and sentenced to life without parole. On September 7, 2016, Brooklyn district attorney Ken Thompson moved to dismiss all charges against Wayne Martin.

The National Registry of Exonerations continues to report persons who were wrongly convicted as a result of investigations that utilized the “victim-centered” approach.

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For further information, contact CPI at wcd@prosecutorintegrity.org .

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