When it comes to the criminal justice system, mistakes happen. There are plenty of instances where a citizen of this country was forced to serve prison time for a crime they did not commit.
Unfortunately, the miscarriage of justice is more common than you’d think and often strips the accused of their freedom forever.
That’s why it’s imperative to hire a skilled criminal defense attorney if you ever get accused of a crime.
Here are four of the most famous wrongful conviction cases in U.S. history that show the criminal justice system at its worst.
The Central Park Five
Perhaps the most famous criminal case in recent memory is the case of the Central Park Five which resulted in the wrongful conviction of five young men.
In 1989, the New York City Police Department arrested more than twenty teenagers after finding a woman raped and beaten in Central Park.
A majority of the suspects, including the five who were eventually convicted, were men of color — implying racial bias in the case.
Despite the lack of matching DNA evidence and conflicting information in the supposed confessions, the five teenagers were sentenced to prison.
The case became a national headline due to the pressure from the media and local leaders. Police used threats and fear to coerce these teenagers into making false confessions.
In 2002, the district attorney’s office finally exonerated the five young men after another inmate confessed to the rape.
This inmate’s DNA matched the sample found on the woman, and the nature of the attack was almost identical to his previous rapes.
West Memphis Three
In 1993, three young boys were found dead in a ditch in West Memphis, Arkansas. With very little DNA evidence and no motive, police had a difficult time finding the person responsible for the murders.
Without any factual basis, the police turned to three teenagers with minor criminal histories. One of the boys had an intellectual disability, and another had a severe psychiatric disorder.
Despite having no evidence connecting the boys to the scene, the court sentenced one boy to death. The judge sentenced the other two boys to life in prison.
It wasn’t until 2011 that new DNA evidence and the discovery of juror misconduct freed them of their wrongful convictions. Each of the boys ended up serving 18 years in prison for a crime they had absolutely no connection to.
The McCollum Brothers
In 1983, police arrested half-brothers Henry McCollum and Leon Brown for the rape and murder of 11-year-old Sabrina Buie.
At the time, McCollum and Brown were 19 and 15 years old, respectively. In 2014, the attorney general’s office found that police officers fabricated evidence against them and coerced them into confessing.
Just like the case of the West Memphis Three, both McCollum and Brown had intellectual disabilities, which made them particularly vulnerable to manipulation.
They spent more than 30 years in prison until new DNA evidence implicated a criminal convicted of a similar crime.
In October 2003, Kimberly Long arrived home early in the morning to find her boyfriend beaten to death in the living room.
She had just returned from a night out with her friend, Jeff Dills. When police arrived, they brought Long and Dills in for questioning. Dills stated that he dropped Long off at her house at 1:20 AM, nearly 49 minutes before she called 911.
However, Dills died before he could testify in court. Despite this, the court found Long guilty of murder due to Dills’ earlier witness statement.
After serving 11 years, Long appealed her sentence with new evidence showing that her boyfriend died several hours before she arrived home.
In addition, they found evidence of an unidentified male’s DNA at the crime scene. Based on this information, the judge reversed Long’s conviction.
Although the district attorney’s office appealed the decision, the Supreme Court tossed her conviction in November 2020.
Accused of a Crime? Don’t Try to Fight it Alone
If these famous wrongful conviction cases can teach us anything, they prove the importance of having an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side.
At the Lux Law Firm, attorney Austin Lux has years of experience working as both a prosecutor and a defense attorney.
He is intimately familiar with the tactics prosecutors use to get a conviction and is dedicated to preserving the freedom of innocent people.
To schedule a consultation, contact us online or give us a call at 719-368-7698. Austin proudly serves clients throughout Colorado from his office in Colorado Springs.