With police officers escaping prosecution for crimes against the public, and instances of wrongful arrest making headlines, many wonder if America is truly the land of the free. Eric Garner and Michael Brown are but two names of many in the United States (U.S.) that have become synonymous with the justice system failing to protect its citizens. The past several years have seen the rise of so called “criminals” such as the hacker group anonymous taking measures into their own hands. To many, groups such as this act as the legend of Robin Hood did centuries before, though what is being stolen and given to the public is not money but information.
While groups like anonymous do commit felonious acts to get said information, some believe that groups like this would not exist if the system they rebel against actually worked. In a recent study, it was reported that over the past 20 years in America over 2,000 defendants were wrongfully charged and convicted of crimes they did not commit. This is a low estimate. Living in the modern age of information and new DNA evidence coming to light has helped to exonerate a great number of citizens falsely convicted of crimes. Those who have seen the film The Shawshank Redemption have some kind of an understanding as to what these cases look like.
Many such cases of wrongful imprisonment come about as a result of persons giving false confessions to police. While the idea of confessing to a crime one did not commit may seem ludicrous, the pressures those under interrogation are put under can make even the strongest willed crack under pressure. Put in positions that include 20 or 30 hour long interrogations without proper representation being present, the stress is enough to goad out a confession to crimes that were never committed. At a time when government agencies are able to access a person’s Facebook information to collect data, calling America the land of the free does not seem truthful.
In Ohio, a man named Ricky Jackson was just exonerated after spending 39 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. Wrongfully charged with murder in 1975, Jackson sat in prison wasting away until the only witness to the alleged murder came forward to completely recant their testimony. Jackson spent more time in prison than any other who has been exonerated. While many prosecutors in America are hardly willing to admit their mistakes, those involved in this case seem sincere in their actions. It has been decided that Jackson will receive upwards of a million dollars for the time he spent in prison. Jackson himself stated that he, “really has to take his hat off to the prosecutors and the state for admitting their errors.” It would appear that justice is served in America, though it may take 39 years to get there.
Unfortunately, Jackson’s case is only one of many that have innocent civilians sitting in jail cells for crimes they never committed. Over 900 days ago in Portland, Oregon, a citizen named Benito Vasquez-Hernandez and his son Moises were placed in custody for allegedly hindering prosecution. Later, the charges which held the two Hernandez men were dropped, yet still they remained in custody. The prosecutor’s story now is that the two gentleman are being held in custody as material witnesses in a murder charge being brought against another of their family. Though the prosecutor, Jeff Lesowski, says he “sincerely regrets holding the men in custody”, Lesowski claims he has no other choice.
In America, it seems, there is no limit to what a person can be imprisoned for. In cases such as the younger Hernandez, Moises, it has been said by the man’s lawyer that the time incarcerated has driven him “literally crazy”. While upon his initial arrest there had been no signs of mental illness, Moises has since been diagnosed with schizophrenia, allegedly caused by being incarcerated for committing no crime. What a terrifying concept, to be imprisoned for committing no crimes and going insane as a result.
According to a recent report from the National Registry of Exoneration, over 125 different individuals were exonerated in 2014. With numbers such as those rising every year, critics of the justice system have solid ground to claim that America is not the “land of the free” as some propaganda would lead the world to believe.
Opinion By Benjamin Johnson
Photo by Josh Rushing – Flickr License