We have previously written about the problem of wrongful conviction in America (which usually results in decades of wrongful incarceration). It would be comforting to believe that wrongful convictions are the product of simple human error made by police and prosecutors who had nothing but good intentions. Unfortunately, that is rarely ever the reality.
In many cases of wrongful conviction which are later overturned, it is discovered that police misconduct, prosecutorial misconduct or both played a key role. Sometimes prosecutors intentionally withhold evidence that could prove defendants innocent. Sometimes police officers coerce suspects into false confessions or otherwise violate suspects' civil rights. Certainly, California has had its share of these shameful incidents.
Sadly, corrupt officers and prosecutors may stay on the job for decades before their tactics are exposed. This can call hundreds of cases into question and result in lengthy appeals. A good example is what has been happening recently in the Midwest.
During the 1970s and 1980s, Chicago police were led by a commander named Jon Burge. In the early 1990s, it became publicly known that Burge and his officers had seriously abused suspects using particularly sinister tactics. These reportedly included beatings, electric shocks and mock executions.
These tactics were highly effective at extracting confessions, but we have to assume that many or most of those confessions were false. The majority of Burge's victims were African-American men from Chicago's South Side.
Burge could not be prosecuted for his crimes (due to statutes of limitation), but he did spend time in prison for perjury after lying about the torture.
A Chicago City Council committee recently approved a $5.5 million package to compensate victims who were tortured by Burge and those working under his command. At most, each victim would be given $100,000 in reparations.
At first glance, this may seem like a gesture of good will from city officials. But some see it as a calculated move to resolve legal issues for as little money as possible. Both the city and county governments have already spent more than $100 million in costs related to Burge's misconduct, including lawsuit judgments, settlements and other legal expenses.
It should go without saying that a conviction by itself is not a "win" for the state or for the criminal justice system. Any wrongful conviction is a gross miscarriage of justice, and victims of wrongful conviction deserve to be compensated to the fullest possible extent.
Source: The Chicago Tribune, "Council panel endorses $5.5 million reparations fund for Burge victims," Hal Dardick and John Byrne, May 5, 2015