Anatomy of a Wrongful Conviction: Theoretical Implications and Practical Solutions
39 Pages Posted: 4 Apr 2006
The growing volume of empirical research on wrongful convictions and the factors underlying them is commendable. Such work helps in understanding the problem and, perhaps more importantly, formulating solutions. Even so, if the lessons from recent post-conviction exonerations of innocent prisoners are to instigate a New Civil Rights Movement for the twenty-first century, as Barry Scheck, Peter Neufeld and others maintain, and yield genuine systemic change, then the individual stories of those cases must not be lost amid the sea of quantitative data and policy debate. Like Rosa Parks and Emmett Till during the Civil Rights Movement of the twentieth century, narratives of wrongfully convicted defendants can serve to galvanize political support for revamping the criminal justice system by touching the public in a personal fashion and bringing the issue, which may seem amorphous and beyond comprehension to some, into sharp focus.
This Article critically examines one such wrongful conviction: People of the State of New York v. David Wong. The Wong case reflects a singular instance of injustice as well as a window into several of the root causes of wrongful convictions more generally: eyewitness misidentification, the use of jailhouse informants, ineffective assistance of counsel, and racial bias. It is these twin features of David Wong's story - micro-level tragedy and macro-level significance - that I hope will prove useful in the current reform efforts and create a sufficient legacy for him as he builds a new life in his native China, free at last.
Keywords: innocence, wrongful convictions, post-conviction, criminal law, criminal procedure
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