A courtroom is a place where justice is supposed to be served. More and more, however, courts are becoming crime scenes -- here, innocent people are being kidnapped and held captive. There's no justification for the wrongdoing behind the record number of exonerations society is witnessing -- 149 last year, and the numbers are rising.
At one point, innocent prisoners had a variety of avenues to appeal their convictions and argue their innocence. Now, those avenues have been restricted by law. Today, there are strict procedures, guidelines and timelines for filing our appeals. The bar is set extremely high when we argue our innocence. If we submit our appeal just one day late, we are "time barred" from filing. It doesn't matter if we have evidence to clear us of the crime -- if the appeal is too late, it will not be heard.
When these strict procedures are used to prevent us for showing our innocence, the courts are being used as a weapon against us.
Sometimes prosecutors withhold exculpatory evidence of a defendant's innocence, and don't turn it over until they are forced to. Take a look at the exonerations reported in recent years and you will see a pattern of prosecutors continuing to fight against our release even when our innocence is uncovered. There are many innocent prisoners who have been buried alive in these prisons by this kind of corruption.
And let's not leave out the defense attorneys who failed to exercise due diligence when representing the innocent -- the ones who did no investigation into our alibis or innocence claims, causing us to spend years in prison until (if we're lucky) another lawyer comes along to clean up their mess. They are also a big reason why even those who are successfully exonerated spend an average of thirteen-and-a-half to fifteen years in prison. Some of us are still fighting to get our innocence recognized but are time-barred because of previous attorneys' failures.
How do the culprits responsible for these wrongful convictions sleep at night? Well, to be honest, these people have no consciences. It's like any other day at the job for them. Some have built their careers on the backs of us innocent prisoners, and now they sit in high places.
There are many more examples of how the innocent suffer from fault not of our own due to laws being enacted to restrict our access to the courts. Until the day comes when culprits responsible for wrongful convictions are held fully accountable -- wrongful convictions will never stop.
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.
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