Guest Blogger: Diane Fanning
The problem of wrongful conviction is two-fold. On one hand, an innocent person is torn away from family and friends, deprived of freedom and liberty and subjected to the depersonalization and abuse that is the hallmark of our prison system. Secondly, the real perpetrator, emboldened by his success at eluding detection, is allowed to remain at large, preying on more victims.
Why does it happen? The Innocence Project reviewed the cases of the first 225 individuals exonerated by DNA. They found that in 77 percent of these miscarriages of justice, one of the factors was eyewitness misidentification. In 52 percent, improper or invalid forensic collection or analysis was at play. The remaining leading causes include false confessions, prosecutorial or law enforcement misconduct and jailhouse informants.
The good news is that many have been freed because of the progress in DNA technology. The bad news is that of 1,022 exonerations, only six percent were women, a far lower amount than is seen in gender incarceration statistics. One of the reasons for the disparity is that the fairly straight-forward genetic evidence is a more commonly available wrongfully convicted male than it is for a female. The other is that these innocent women are often charged with killing one or more of their own children: a potent mixture that creates an inflamed emotional environment for the jury and a more vulnerable defendant who is, in her current state, less able to aid in her own defense. The best news of all is that the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University had recently announced the launch of the first Women’s Project in the nation, designed to address these gender disparities. Inspired by the advocacy of Julie Rea, who was found not guilty in a second trial and awarded a Certificate of Actual Innocence from the State of Illinois, the project will spotlight the unique issues raised in the wrongful conviction of women and identify the remedies needed to fix the justice system.
Because this issue is of importance to me, I handed over the problem to my protagonist, Lt. Lucinda Pierce in WRONG TURN, the sixth novel in the series. She has to face the reality that two of her old homicide cases might be serious miscarriages of justice. In trying to identify and address any errors that were made, she has to overcome strong political obstacles, and, at the same time, end the murderous spree of a serial predator determined to kill again.
Diane Fanning is celebrating 2013 as the year of her twentieth published books. The Edgar-nominated writer is the author of twelve true crime books as well as the six books in the Lt. Lucinda Pierce crime fiction series. She has appeared on the TODAY SHOW, 48 HOURS, 20/20, FORENSIC FILES, the Biography Channel, E! and the BBC as well as numerous cable network news and crime shows and radio stations across the States and Canada. Raised in Baltimore, she spent twenty years in Virginia and now lives in New Braunfels, Texas, with a very tolerant husband and a cantankerous, elderly cat.