Innocent Prisoners: Decades of Life Lost

Society views the role of a prosecutor as being a seeker of truth, not a gate-keeper of false convictions. Statistics from the volcano of recent exonerations show that the average exoneree spends between 13½ and 15 years in prison before finally being released.

Most of the time, our cries are not taken seriously or even heard until a crooked cop or prosecutor comes under fire. Society is not privy to our struggles until they’re all over and we are freed. In each of the past three years, record-breaking numbers of exonerations have taken place. The scary thing is that, in a third of these exonerations, prosecutorial misconduct was behind the exonerees’ wrongful convictions.

Why do we spend multiple decades in prison while innocent? Our innocence claims are met with extreme resistance by our prosecutors, even when our claims have merit. And let's not leave out the withholding of evidence of our innocence by our prosecutors. That's right, they knew we were innocent, but they have continue to fight to maintain our convictions. These actions are a disgrace to honorable prosecutors who come to work every day to seek justice.

This epidemic of wrongful convictions has now made society question whether prosecutors are protecting the integrity of the justice system. After misconduct findings, these same prosecutors get to continue their jobs as if nothing ever happened. That's right, after knowingly and intentionally convicting and maintaining wrongful convictions, they aren’t held responsible!

At one time, if a prosecutor reopened a case that they felt was unjust, they would be frowned upon by their coworkers and considered “soft on crime.” This would have been career suicide years ago, but now it is a common practice by genuine prosecutors. Look at the explosion of Conviction Integrity Units popping up across our country.

In many states, after an innocent prisoner is released, there is no reentry assistance for them. Now keep in mind, the majority of exonerees have spent decades in prison. Some are homeless, with no family, and are basically told, “now make it the best way you know how.” There's multiple reentry programs and people of assistance for released guilty prisoners, but often nothing for wrongfully convicted exonerees. This should be viewed as a crime in itself.

Mistakes happen, and yes, an innocent person can be wrongfully convicted but, what should never be viewed as a mistake or error is when an agent of the court knowingly and intentionally plays a part in misconduct that leads to an innocent prisoner being falsely convicted--or maintaining a wrongful conviction. A law should be enacted universally to terminate their law license immediately in these situations to show society and innocent prisoners that this kind of injustice will no longer be tolerated.

Lorenzo Johnson served 16 and a half years of a life-without-parole sentence until 2012, when the Third Circuit Federal Court of Appeals ruled there was legally insufficient evidence for his conviction. He remained free for four months, after which the US Supreme Court unanimously reinstated the conviction and ordered him back to prison to resume the sentence. With the support of The Pennsylvania Innocence Project, he is continuing to fight for his freedom. Though he does not have internet access himself, you can email his campaign, make a donation, or sign his petition and learn more at: http://www.freelorenzojohnson.org/sign-the-petition.html. He is scheduled for a court hearing in July, 2017 to present evidence of innocence and prosecutorial misconduct.

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