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Wrongful Convictions

Wrongful Convictions

 

 

 

By Brian Humenuk, COPJOT Police Notebooks and Pens -  October 5, 2022

Wrongful Convictions – Is it just the price of doing business in the American Justice system?

Wrongful convictions and convictions overturned has not always been an interest for me. Over the years of my career, I started to see a pattern in the trial court where individuals are unable to pay for an attorney and are appointed a public defender. Don't get me wrong, I do have a lot of respect for public defenders. I believe that they carry a case load that is a specific niche others don't bother with.  I guess I just feel that in order to work as a public defender and make the most amount of money for the least amount of time invested there has to be a quick resolution, in other words a plea deal.

As companies like Netflix and Amazon Prime have replaced or maybe just added on to your cable TV options they have brought some series that just blow my mind away. The streaming series that I am talking about are programs like the Innocence Files, The Innocence Project, Outcry, Trial 4, How to fix a drug scandal, The Trial of the Chicago 7, When they see us – The Central Park 5. If you haven’t caught some of these series you are missing some great true crime documentaries and a missed opportunity on learning how the justice system works when a person who is innocent is charged with a major crime.

There are many things that I would have changed, if I could, upon graduating from the police academy and starting this wonderful job as a police officer. For one, if I could go back in time, I wish I could have watched a few of these innocence series so that the phrase “it is just as important to set an innocent man free as it is to convict a guilty man” would have been driven home. Coming out of the police academy I felt my job was to find criminal activity, find the perpetrator or suspect involved and charge them either by arrest or summons. I was 27 at the time did I really know anything about systemic justice, false confessions, false eye witnesses or even that the photo array would be heavily scrutinized and changed during my first years on the job.

Once I started to get hooked on these real life innocence cases the light bulb came on and the aha moment was born. Something about me is that I am a thinker. I have to figure out how things work. I have to look things up and do research before I am convinced of the truth. What I really enjoy about these cases are that by the time someone is released from prison on a false conviction the evidence is so overwhelming that the investigation, the research, the interviews, the briefs and arguments for and against have been done for me. The light bulb that went on many years ago has never turned off. In fact when I was studying as a graduate student a few years ago it only made me think more about how people get convicted of crimes that they didn't do.

If you are a newer police officer coming out of the police academy or maybe you have been on a few years my recommendation on where to start with these true crime innocence shows would be “Outcry” and “Trial 4”. As you are working day in and day out enjoying your new career and most likely filling up pages and pages of notes in your new COPJOT Custom Police Notebook try and find some time to binge a few of these shows. You will be blown away at many of these cases and it won’t be a bad thing to have some of this information in the back of your mind when you do catch yourself a case and your gut starts playing tricks on you.

Lastly, I was recently on a Southwest flight from Providence to Orlando where I was browsing their inflight free movies. I came across a movie called "Just Mercy" starring Michael B. Jordan. I won’t give away what happens in the film but it is a must watch movie if you want to see first hand what happens at the intersection of justice when race and economic inequalities collide.

So now that you have wrote down all of these streaming and binge worthy show ideas inside of your Police Notebook which was hopefully custom made by COPJOT, I hope that you educate yourself in a way that will make the criminal justice system better just by understanding that we have a job to do and sometimes that job is to set an innocent man free or do some extra police work in order to find the truth. Because this job that we do requires us to be informed as well as to continue to learn.

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