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  • Karly Burns

Wrongful Convictions: The Downfalls of The Criminal Justice System

Louise Reynolds, Maria Shepherd, and Timothy Bridges. Only a few names from the thousands of known wrongfully convicted individuals. As a criminology major, we learn about many aspects of the criminal justice system. One of many components we touch on is the downfalls of the criminal justice system. Wrongful convictions are only one example of this. From witness testimony to falsified evidence, there are several factors that are a part of wrongful convictions.

A question that someone may ask is, what are wrongful convictions? A wrongfully convicted individual is someone who is convicted for a crime they did not commit nor intended to commit. They receive all the impacts from the criminal justice system for a crime they did not engage in. This includes but is not limited to arrests, charges, prison sentences, and a permanent conviction on their record. This only touches upon the components of the criminal justice system however, there are many consequences that follow. From emotional trauma to their lives being stripped away from them, those who are faced with a wrongful conviction are confounded with several detriments to their wellbeing.

It is estimated that around 2.3-5% of all convictions are wrongful convictions however, this number is difficult to determine. There is a huge possibility this number is higher. There are multiple factors that lead to the percentage of wrongfully convicted individuals. Dr. Charles Smith played an immense role in the wrongful convictions of many. Louise Reynolds faced the impacts of his actions. In 1997, Louise Reynolds spent 2 years in jail for the murder of her daughter. Dr. Charles Smith concluded her daughter died due to stab wounds. A subsequent investigation found that the stab wounds were dog bites. Due to Dr. Charles Smith’s negligence not only did Louise Reynolds experience grief over her daughter’s death but she also had to do time in jail because of it. Another individual who dealt with the consequences of Dr. Charles Smith’s ignorance was Mariah Shepherd. On October 22, 1992, she was sentenced to two years less a day. This was due to the death of her stepdaughter. Dr. Charles Smith reported her stepdaughter died of physical abuse and a blow to the head. In May 2009 Mariah appealed her conviction and it was concluded her stepdaughter’s death was due to natural causes. The conclusions made by one individual caused many to suffer to the detriments of being wrongfully convicted. Another major factor in wrongful convictions is false evidence. Timothy Bridges was one individual who was faced with this. In May 1989, Charlotte was found severely beaten. 3 informants with previous criminal records reported that it was Timothy Bridges who did the crime. Due to microscopic hair analysis, they retrieved some hair from the crime scene that was Timothy Bridge’s. In 2013 he was presented with a retrial on the grounds that hair analysis may be invalid. Resultantly, in February 2016, Timothy Bridge’s charges were dropped. As recognized, it is easily accessible for any individual to be wrongfully convicted. There are many barriers that must be put in place to aid in the prevention of wrongful convictions.

Wrongful convictions are only one of the many downfalls in the criminal justice system. In order to reconstruct the errors in the criminal justice system, we must recognize and educate ourselves on the downfalls. The Innocence Project is one of many organizations that aim to help wrongfully convicted individuals. They have helped many people similar to Mariah Shepherd and Timothy Bridges. It was founded in 1992 by Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck to avert future injustice. They aid in improving and reforming legal work while also supporting and educating others about the wrongfully convicted. Organizations similar to this help get the word out about wrongful convictions. Reflectively, this will aid in getting others involved and help reform the injustices of the criminal justice system.

The criminal justice system still maintains the need for reformation and transformation. Wrongful convictions are apparent in thousands of cases. This is a major issue that needs to be resolved. Without the help from organizations like the Innocence Project, individuals like Louise Reynolds, Mariah Shepherd, and Timothy Bridges would not have received the justice they deserve. As a society, we must continue to navigate the downfalls of the criminal justice system in order to replenish detriments like wrongful convictions.


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