WRONGFUL CONVICTIONS – A PREDICAMENT

By – Isiri Rajaneesh

Introduction:

An omnipresent yet overlooked problem, wrongful conviction, referred to as miscarriage of justice transpires when an innocent individual is held guilty and convicted. Fundamental misconduct on part of many states, wrongful conviction occurs incessantly in India, raising serious concerns about the accuracy and fairness of the Indian criminal justice system. Copious people are wrongfully convicted in prisons and these innocent individuals suffer from psychological problems, anxiety disorder, stress, and other issues that are not present in the case of the guilty prisoners. It complicates and reduces the likelihood of the innocent returning to normal life after their release from prison. [1]

Many states also do not allow for monetary compensation for people who have been victimized by the criminal justice system, which further highlights the fundamental need in the Indian judicial system for a mechanism that will take effective action in cases of wrongful convictions. There is a need for laws to be properly implemented, and judges must ensure that biases of any kind do not play a role in judicial decisions. A wrongful conviction can occur as a result of a hasty decision by courts to clear out pending judgments that are to be issued or as a result of plea bargaining, which involves providing an incentive to the judge hearing the case to declare the innocent defendant guilty or even because of judicial misconduct on behalf of the judges.[2] Numerous grounds lead to wrongful convictions. This article peruses the issue of wrongful conviction and measures taken by the state to ameliorate the harm done.

Wrongful conviction and inducements of the same:

An abstruse term, wrongful conviction primarily means the “conviction of factually innocent persons.[3] It is also referred to as miscarriage of justice, but it is pertinent to note that while the term “miscarriages of justice” is frequently used to refer to factually incorrect convictions,  it can also refer to claimed unjust acquittals and immunity from prosecution, as well as faulty convictions. As a result, the term “wrongful conviction” encompasses a broad variety of criminal-justice procedures and institutions, including prosecution, defence, rhetorical science, and assessment.[4]

Several factors induce wrongful conviction. Eyewitness misinterpretation is the radical cause of wrongful convictions. However, courtesy of most crimes occurring rapidly, this is mainly just an honest error that can occur. In addition, the perpetrators of the crime frequently conceal their identities, which offers a lot of possibility for error, particularly when it comes to eyewitness identification. In some circumstances, eyewitnesses are overconfident that the person they see is the criminal, while in other cases, the police may accidentally influence the witness to pick a suspect, which can further lead to wrongful conviction. Many eyewitnesses also complicate and generate uncertainty in the stories, as well as create phoney identities, which makes the process more vulnerable to failure. Another leading cause is false confessions. Police officers frequently press for a confession during interrogations, to ease the investigation process. They also frequently emphasize the gravity of the conviction and the strength of their proof. They try to persuade the accused to confess by convincing him or her that if he or she confess to committing the offence, the severity of the punishment will be reduced, which can lead to suspects and accused individuals supplying inaccurate or false information about the crime, which can further lead to wrongful conviction.

Failure to provide evidence, tampered evidence, malpractices based on political incrimination and dishonesty also lead to wrongful conviction. The majority of information gathered during the investigation is often not available to defence lawyers and many prosecutors do not get police notes and files made during the course of the investigation. Sometimes, lawyers also refuse substantive information provided because they don’t believe in its credibility. Many times, to quickly secure a conviction and conclude a case, judges make decisions that are tactical in nature. Meagre defence, courtesy of inept, perfidious lawyers, is also a prominent cause of wrongful conviction. Flawed assumptions, made by forensic researchers, often lead to false evidence conclusions. Evidence of gunshot residues, abusive head trauma, incense, etc. is noteworthy examples of such cases. Many times, the evidence submitted in the court is not monitored to determine whether it is exaggerated or not. Moreover, forensic science used to rely on evidence such as morsel marks and hair analysis, which could not be conclusive as DNA testing and as a result, judges, lawyers and jurors were called in to be experts during trials as well as produce evidence.[5] Such inaccuracy in forensic testing also leads to many cases of wrongful conviction.

Measures were taken by the State to undo the harm caused by wrongful convictions:

There is no doubt that wrongful conviction is an egregious transgression that violates human rights. Article 21 of the Constitution of India guarantees everyone, the right to personal liberty and to live life with dignity. This right to live with dignity is not simply the right to exist as an animal, but the right to live in a free society, free of state atrocities.[6] The violation of fundamental rights as a result of police atrocities, prosecutorial misconduct and judicial partiality elicits state liability. The judiciary has revolutionized the concept of compensatory jurisprudence over the years, in which the State is to be held liable for violations of human rights.

The rate of wrongful convictions in India has been steadily rising in recent years and there are more innocent individuals in prison than ever before. There is no compensation scheme or legal machinery in place, thus allowing the State to be penalized for its mistakes. As a result, victims of the justice transfer system frequently approach the courts to seek compensation. In the case of Thana Singh vs Central Bureau Of Narcotics, the Apex Court contended that the State authorities’ mentality displayed a lack of respect for the likelihood of incarceration miseries, as well as a lack of admiration for humanity. The Court also stated that the criminal justice system is riddled with callousness, which is the root of issues like wrongful conviction.

Since wrongful conviction violates individuals’ human rights, it is pertinent that the victims of this misdeed are compensated by the State. The remedies to undo the harm caused by wrongful conviction have been supplied by the State.  As mentioned before, there is no restitution plan or legal mechanism in India that allows the government to be sanctioned for its blunders. There are no explicit provisions in Acts that allow victims of wrongful conviction to seek remedies. As of now, there are three types of court-based remedies for wrongful conviction and they are:

  1. Public law remedy – Public law remedy has its foundation in the Indian Constitution. Chapter III of the Constitution. While Article 21 guarantees the right to life and liberty, Article 22  guarantees protection against arbitrary arrests and illegal detention, among other things. Furthermore, the Constitution has given remedies for the violation through the Supreme Court’s writ jurisdiction under Article 32 and the High Courts’ writ authority under Article 226 of the Constitution, which includes the grant of compensation to the victim. [7]The compensatory jurisprudence evolved as a result of courts having stupendous influence in bringing such violations to the forefront. In the case of Ram Lakhan Singh vs State Govt. of UP, the Apex Court contended that cases of wrongful conviction is a breach of an individual’s fundamental rights and is also a misuse of the process of law. The courts therefore have the jurisdiction, in such cases, to order the State to rehabilitate the accused party and to pay compensation. In Nilabati Behera vs State of Orissa, the Court upheld that that compensation awarded in writ proceedings constitutes a remedy under public law, based on the principle of strict liability for violations of fundamental rights. In several other cases, such as Bhim Singh, Mla vs State of J & K And Ors., Saheli, A Women’s Resources vs Commissioner of Police, Delhi and so on, the Supreme Court has held the State liable for wrongful conviction and awarded compensation for the same. Despite the fact that the Supreme Court and High Courts have upheld several cases regarding wrongful conviction, there is no defined outline for developing the virtues of the right to compensation or determining the amount of compensation. Public law remedy is applied with zeal on a case-by-case basis and is thus very dependent on the facts and circumstances of each case. As a result, this treatment can be subjective, intermittent, and undefined.
  2. Private law remedy – Private law remedy refers to the filing of a civil suit against the State and it’s officials so as to get monetary compensation. The essence of private law remedy lies in Article 300 of the Indian Constitution. As stated by the Apex Court, this remedy exists as a distinct and separate remedy from the constitutional remedy available under writ jurisdiction. Damages differ from compensation, with the former being based on private law rights such as tort, and the latter being based in the nature of exemplary repair.[8]
  3. Criminal law remedy – The essence of criminal law remedy lies in Chapter IX of the Indian Penal Code. Chapter IX chronicles offences committed by public servants and also covers offences that aren’t committed by public workers but are related to them. In addition, Chapter IX discusses false evidence and crimes against public justice, as well as obstruction of justice. As mentioned earlier, tampered evidence and false confessions are a few of the prime causes of wrongful conviction and Chapter IX of the IPC states punishments for any instances of mala fide interference with the investigation, prosecution, trial, or other criminal procedures by the investigative agencies such as police officers, prosecution, etc. In the case of Mohd. Jalees Ansari & Ors. Vs Central Bureau of Investigation, the accused was taken into police custody in 1994, then charged with a bomb blast in Hyderabad under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, 1987 (TADA), and then for another bomb blast incident in 1993. The accused confessed and was taken to a prison in Ajmer, where he spent the next 23 years until he was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment  by a TADA court. In 2016, the case was heard by the Supreme Court, which overturned the TADA court’s verdict, stating that the confession was not real and was obtained under duress, and that being the sole basis of the conviction lacked legal legitimacy and, as a result, was inadmissible.[9] Many High Court manuals too have rules and provisions pertaining to the state’s liability in cases of wrongful conviction.

Conclusion:

Wrongful convictions continue to be a thorn in the flesh of the Indian judicial system and are also, undoubtedly, a blatant violation of fundamental human rights. From time immemorial, innumerable innocent individuals have been convicted for crimes they did not commit and have spent significant portions of their lives away from family, friends, and what was supposed to be carefree, fruitful lives. Victims of wrongful conviction also suffer from grave psychological as well as physiological distress. Cases of wrongful conviction have been proliferating from the past few years and occur daily in Indian courts, raising serious concerns about the criminal justice system’s accuracy and impartiality. Whist court-based remedies for wrongful conviction are available in India, there is a dire need for bona fide compensation programmes and legal mechanisms that permit the state to be punished in cases of wrongful conviction. The country also needs a kosher, legitimate provision that bestows meteoric relief to victims of wrongful convictions. As mentioned earlier, many states also do not allow or confer monetary compensation for victims of wrongful convictions, which emphasizes the critical need in the Indian court system for a body that will take meaningful action in cases of wrongful convictions.