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Lying witnesses and wrongful convictions: A common problem

| Apr 3, 2017 | Criminal Appeals |

We have previously written about wrongful convictions that occur as the result of a false confession. Exoneration statistics have shown that in a surprising percentage of false convictions, suspects confess to a crime they didn’t commit. This is usually because they have been coerced, lied to or threatened by police officers. Many suspects were unaware of their rights, including the right to an attorney.

But another major problem behind wrongful convictions is lying and false testimony by alleged witnesses. And sadly, the reasons for witness lying are nearly identical: threats, lies, bribes or promises made by police officers.

According to a recent news article, the problem of false testimony is pervasive enough that it has its own term: “testi-lying.” The National Registry of Exonerations has chronicled more than 2,000 cases of wrongful conviction since 1989. In more than half of those cases, perjury and/or false accusations played a role.

Why would alleged witnesses be willing to lie? Common reasons given include:

  • Threats that police officers would prosecute the witness if he or she didn’t agree to testify against the suspect
  • Lengthy, exhausting interrogation sessions that cause witnesses to become confused about what they did and didn’t see.
  • Assurances or implications that prosecutors may overlook any unrelated criminal charges that the witness may be facing
  • Bribery in the form of cash
  • Bribery in the form of a reduced sentence or better prison accommodations (for alleged witnesses who are facing charges or have been convicted of other crimes

While it is common for witnesses to lie in court, it is also common for those same witnesses to recant their testimony years later. Unfortunately, recantation does not guarantee that the wrongfully convicted person will have their case reviewed or retried. And even when retrial is granted, it can take years.

Witness testimony is often unreliable – particularly in cases where no other evidence links a defendant to a crime. For this and many other reasons, you should seek the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney if you are facing criminal charges.


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