The ideal outcome for a criminal case is convicting the guilty and clearing the innocent. However, injustices still occur through wrongful convictions or when the person declared guilty turns out to be factually innocent of the charges.
There were 143 exonerations nationwide in 2019 for different offenses, with Florida being one of the states with the most number of exonerations. Unfortunately, despite the eventual acquittal, those imprisoned for crimes they did not commit often experience profound psychological damage.
The devastating effects of a false accusation
Wrongful convictions tend to result from failures at varying stages in the criminal justice process, such as mistaken witnesses, fabricated confessions or misleading forensic findings.
As a result, the exonerees may experience the following negative consequences:
- Emotional distress: A survey among wrongly convicted individuals revealed that 80% had a traumatic incident while in jail. On top of these wounds, they may feel a mix of anxiety and fear for not knowing what can happen next or how to survive a tarnished reputation.
- Erosion of trust: They may find it challenging to trust, thinking people will just fail them again. This sense of doubt can lead to relationship or intimacy issues.
- Exacerbated loneliness: Social stigma can push them to isolate themselves. Without the drive to interact with others, it will be tough to gain opportunities, such as education and training, which can help them land a job.
The psychological impact of a wrongful conviction can last for life. However, with proper moral and legal support, rebuilding and healing are possible.
Exoneration is a hopeful beginning
No amount of apology can bring back lost years. But while it cannot undo the psychological suffering that a falsely accused had to endure and might continue to face, exoneration can be a hopeful start. It can also aid in showing how the justice system can improve to protect the innocent.