Sometimes, errors do occur in the collection and analysis of the evidence presented in criminal cases. Such errors are almost certainly bound to result in the conviction of the wrong people. This is one of the things we alluded to in our last blog post, when we looked at the simple measures that can be taken to minimize incidents of people being convicted for crimes they didn’t commit. As it turns out, most of the criminal cases are (broadly speaking) based on three types of evidence. Firstly, we have cases that are based on identification evidence. Then we have cases that are based on recognition evidence. And finally, we have cases that are based on circumstantial evidence.
Let’s take an hypothetical case, and assume that, in an unfortunate incident, a man is robbed somewhere. Now it may be a case where the man in question actually sees the people who rob him clearly, and marks their faces (whilst also taking note of their heights, body structures, voices and so on). The man in question doesn’t have previous knowledge of the robbers. But he has marked them, and he can pick them up in an identification parade. This sort of case tends to ultimately end up having to be decided on the basis of identification evidence.
Now let’s assume that our unfortunate man is actually robbed by people he knows well. Having recognized them, he mentions them in his first report to the police. This sort of case is likely to end up being decided on the basis of recognition evidence.
Finally, let’s assume that our unfortunate man doesn’t recognize the people who rob him. He also doesn’t get to identify them. But then, a fellow is arrested somewhere, selling one of the items that were stolen from the man. The fellow gets linked to the robbery that way: that is, by being in possession of recently stolen property. This sort of case is ultimately likely to be decided on the basis of circumstantial evidence.
Unfortunately, errors are sometimes (and actually quite often) made in the collection and analysis of these types of evidence. If, for instance, a case is based on identification evidence, you may have a situation where the complainant is first shown the suspect to pick in the identification parade. Yet the parade is supposed to prove that the complainant actually identified the person who robbed him. Or if the case is based on recognition evidence, you may have a situation where the complainant doesn’t mention any particular person in his first report to the police. Yet somewhere down the line, he purports (as an afterthought) to know the person who robbed him. If the police entertain that kind of scenario, it is very easy to end up with a wrongful conviction. Cases based on circumstantial evidence are even trickier. A person may be arrested trying to sell something that was stolen from a robbery victim. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that he was one of the robbers. If he can reasonably demonstrate how he ended up in possession of the item in question, that should be end of the matter. But more often than not, the prosecutors, desperate to have someone to take to court, opt to charge this sort of person: often leading to major injustices. Or, to take another case of circumstantial evidence, suppose that person ABC is the last person seen with person XYZ before the latter is found dead somewhere. The prosecutors then often decide to charge person ABC for XYZ’s killing — even if there is nothing whatsoever linking him to the act, save for the fact that he was the last person seen with ABC (which may be purely coincidental).
Every effort needs to be made, to ensure that such errors in the collection and analysis of evidence are avoided. These are expensive errors. We can entertain errors in other serious matters, but not in the area of collection and analysis of evidence for criminal trials. If, for instance, errors are made in the registration of a company at the SunbizFlorida website (which can be accessed online at Sunbiz.org), such errors can be rectified later. But if errors are made in the collection and analysis of evidence for a criminal trial, the suspect may end up suffering irreparable damage: even if the errors are discovered later on.