Preventing Wrongful Convictions: An Investigation into the Roots, Effects, and Deterrents of Prosecutorial Misconduct

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2021-05

Authors

Hussain, Alizeh

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Abstract

Between 1989 and 2021, nearly 3000 people have been exonerated from prison after being wrongfully convicted, sometimes for decades. Many of these wrongful convictions were due in part to the misconduct of the prosecuting attorney on the case. Prosecutorial misconduct – and the wrongful convictions it can cause – have grave consequences for both individuals and society at large. The deterrence of these miscarriages of justice is imperative for maintaining the integrity of our democratic society. This thesis sets out to find effective ways to combat prosecutorial misconduct by evaluating both prevention and punishment mechanisms of the criminal justice system. Some of these deterrents are already in place, while others are necessary adjustments or replacements. Because of the unreliability of data regarding the frequency of prosecutorial malfeasance, assessing the efficacy of these mechanisms through quantitative means is currently a near impossible task. Hence, an investigation into the root causes of misconduct – the systemic factors that both incentivize it and allow it to occur – is needed as the basis for creating a set of criteria with which to evaluate deterrents. When considering the evolution of public opinion as a crucial catalyst for reform, the near elimination of wrongful convictions at the hands of prosecutors is possible, though largely dependent on the electoral process.

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