Eight Common Myths about the US Justice System

The United States Justice System is filled with flaws that are hidden by eight common myths. The first myth is that eyewitnesses are highly reliable and this is simply not true because of the stressful circumstances these people witness the crimes under. In courts throughout the country expert witnesses are called to discuss the variables surrounding the ability to identify a person.  There are several factors that exist to consider before we can trust an identification.  Individuals from different races illustrates a major factor regarding the reliability of a witness because many tend to discriminate. In fact 1/3 of wrongful convictions are due to mistaken eyewitness testimonies.

The second myth surrounds the belief that fingerprint evidence is foolproof.  There are many factors that contradict this statement. Prints left in the field are often smudged or incomplete and there is a great error rate in identifying fingerprints.  Once again, experts must be enlisted to testify in this great area of uncertainty.  When and how a print is placed is ample area for challenging this myth.

The third myth is that human memories are reliable.  Most expert witnesses use in this area will tell you that memories can be distorted. We know this from our own personal experience living or day to day lives.  Several external factors often affect how memories are retrieved and described. The stress of the situation can ultimately alter the memory because human memory is fundamentally flawed.

Number four focuses on notion that innocent people never confess.  The reality is that many people feel compelled to confess to or plead to a crime because of the emotional and financial exhaustion that a court case comes with.  Minors and adult must always remember to exercise their rights under the fourth and fifth amendments of the Constitution at all times.  The system is not kind and when mistakes are made success to reverse your actions may be slim or none.

The fifth myth surround the notion that the police are objective in their investigations. The fact is that police often decide the majority of the case and manipulate evidence to point the crime at a specific person. Being objective takes time and effort.  Unfortunately police don’t feel they have those options when beginning an investigation.  Police may create, ignore or destroy evidence early in an investigation because their attention is drawn to certain witnesses who are bias.  That bias may not be determined right away by police so any other avenues which could be taken are unexplored.  As a result, the possibility of innocent people spending time in jail or prison exist because of these wrongdoings.

Myth number six revolves around the idea that guilty pleas are proof of guilt. This does not reflect reality because often times the defendant may plead guilty to one count, but the sentence involves all of the counts brought against the defendant. This also does not account for the fear of being impeached in trial because of previous involvement with the law.

The seventh myth is that prosecutor’s play fair.  We would like to believe that the prosecutor is impartial in their beliefs and administer the pursuit of justice evenhandedly.  This can be misleading because not all prosecutors follow the necessary rules. A very common broken rule is handing over all exculpatory evidence to the defense. Not doing this vital step can greatly impact the outcome of the case and possibly put an innocent person in jail.  Courts have focused on this trend by requiring the full disclosure from prosecutors but more importantly, authorizing sanctions and penalties for violations of the rules regarding disclosure of information or the altering of it by the prosecutor’s hand.

The last myth is that long sentences deter crime. This is simply not true because crime rates have been dropping all over the world.  The United States is the only country with a crime rate 5 times that of other industrialized nations. Harsher sentences do not help get rid of crime; instead they become a burden on taxpayers to pay for.  The recent moves in California with propositions 36 and 47 show a movement towards fairer sentencing and a hope to reduce the incarceration rates which are far too high.