24Jul 2017

Man’s Prison Sentence Overturned After 21 Years; State Passes Reforms

Jabbar Washington, a 43 year old Brooklyn, New York man, was convicted of murder in 1996 and jailed for 21 years. However, his conviction has been overturned and he’s been released and reunited with his family. On Wednesday, Washington was acquitted of his crime once investigators realized the prosecutor had misled the jury to believe a witness had identified him as the shooter. According to Washington in a statement to ABC, “It was like a bad dream. It had to end someday, it had to.”

But Washington isn’t the only person who was wrongfully convicted of a crime in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Contemporary prosecutors claim that systemic failures during the two decades led to many others with his same predicament. According to major studies, approximately .027 percent of all convictions are wrongful. While this statistic is small concerning percentages, looking into the stories of men like Jabbar Washington, of which there are far too many, can be a gut-wrenching endeavor.

Just between 1989 and 2003, Samuel Gross, a professor at the University of Michigan, was able to catalogue 340 exoneration cases. These men and women were forced to live in conditions meant for criminals for months to years, sometimes even decades. What’s even more gut-wrenching is the thought that there are doubtlessly countless other people who are innocent but have yet to be exonerated.

In fact, the New York City Detective, Louis Scarcella, in charge of handling Washington’s case is now infamous for dozens of cases which are under review by the DA for misconduct. But, according to Washington’s defense attorney, Ron Kuby, the abounding issue isn’t Scarcella himself, but an entire system that, during the two-decade period, emphasized a philosophy that it “didn’t much matter if you got the right people, as long as you got most of the right people most of the time.”

The issue for Washington and other convicted criminals like him lies in the fact that he was dehumanized by the justice system that was meant to protect him from false accusations and to protect possible future victims from real repeat criminals. In a system that’s satisfied with a 97.3% success rate, focus is taken off protecting and serving citizens and placed onto numbers and career success.

But the 1980’s-1990’s era has ended, and New York has passed a budget for fiscal year ’18 that will greatly reduce the number of wrongful convictions. Under this new budget plan, new standard practices will include the recording of all interrogations, and standardized practices will be adopted to safeguard against eyewitness misidentifications that can lead to false convictions.

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