In 1984, two North Carolina girls, age 4 and 6, were molested. They told police their abuser was Sylvester Smith, who was dating the mother of one of the girls, and he went to prison for the crime.
Twenty years later, the victims recanted, saying their grandmother told them to blame Smith, and his conviction was overturned.
But the person they say who really molested them — their cousin, who was nine at the time — could not be prosecuted because he was under age at the time of the alleged crime. He is, however, serving a life sentence for another crime he committed in the meantime: murder.
Smith’s case illustrates the fallout from false convictions: He lost roughly 20 years of his life to prison, while the alleged perpetrator was free to commit other crimes.
Chris Seward/ The News & Observer (Raleigh), file
Sylvester Smith, center, smiles after he was granted a new trial after two witnesses recanted their testimony in a Brunswick County courtroom in Bolivia, N.C., Nov. 5, 2004. He had wrongfully served 20 years on a sexual assault charge.
Smith’s discarded conviction is one of nearly 900 such cases filed in the National Registry of Exonerations, a database of prisoners exonerated in the U.S. of serious crimes since 1989, that was made public on Monday. To qualify as an “exoneree,” an individual must have been convicted and later relieved of all the legal consequences.
In compiling the database, researchers became aware of more than 1,100 other cases in which convictions were overturned due to 13 separate police corruption scandals, most of which involved the planting of drugs or guns on innocent defendants. Those exonerations are not included in the registry.
University of Michigan Law School discovered correlations in the types of crimes and reasons for wrongful convictions.
- Fabricated crimes. False convictions in child sex abuse cases were usually due to fabricated crimes; sometimes a divorced parent told a child to make up lies about an ex-spouse abusing them, or police or a therapist convinced a child to say something that wasn’t true.
- Eyewitness mistakes. In adult rape cases, for example, false convictions were typically based on eyewitness mistakes, “more often than not, mistakes by white victims falsely identifying black defendants,” the report said.
- Misconduct by authorities. For homicides, misconduct by authorities was the second-biggest cause of false convictions, just behind false eyewitness accounts.
Smith asked for a pardon from the governor, but was denied.
Now 61 and in poor health, he lives with his wife — who he was married to but separated from before he went to prison — in Brunswick County, N.C., and has established a friendship with one of the victims who accused him, his lawyer said.
Not all exonerees who leave prison are able to reintegrate back into society like Smith, despite a court proclaiming them innocent.
“Even if people honestly believe that this person was truly innocent, there is a certain stigma that comes with the mere fact that you were in prison,” Simon said. ”You were with bad people, you were antisocial, you had to live in the jungle-like societies you often find in prisons.”
Sometimes, families break up when a defendant goes to prison. Finding a job after release can be hard too.
“Often times, the state is really unhelpful. There is no automatic method to get your criminal record expunged,” Simon said. “And they have huge holes in their results, and often times they lack the skills that would help you get a job. Everyone else was studying while you were stuck in a cell.”
Simon believes the registry will help reform the justice system because it helps experts analyze the causes of false convictions. The creators are still adding cases to ExonerationRegistry.org. Gross said he hopes exonerees will contact his team if they had their convictions overturned and don’t see their story in the database.
- To Read Complete Article and Source: http://usnews.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/05/21/11756575-researchers-more-than-2000-false-convictions-in-past-23-years
- Related Article: http://floridainnocence.org/content/?p=6144
This is not something new, it is not a conspiracy theory. This happens too much and there are more cases but they cannot get to all of them. Montana this is happening here in this state and hearing DOJ and what they are asking for will make this happen at a rapid pace. The handwriting is on the wall. They want an increased budget to add 700+ per fiscal year to the sex offender registry. DOC held off with the new prison plan where their proposal claimed only 150 offenders per fiscal year. Notice the word offender, not sex offender that DOJ has requested. DOJ and DPHHS has asked that it be made mandatory that if anyone calls in about “suspected” abuse that DPHHS will automatically have to refer it to the sheriff’s department instead of them investigating it themselves first. You already seen the study about ex-spouses fabricating lies. What if someone decides they don’t like you and they want revenge? They say it will be kept confidential, no it will not. I can guarantee that. Now we have different counties coming up with all these sex offenses, I am telling you it does not add up. What adds up is that they believe that we are going to remain stupid to what is going on and how they are making money. Also, lets add in the fact that CCA is wining and dining some of our politicians. CCA has contributed to campaigns here in Montana. They just put in a national proposal for 48 states of prisons with a contract of 20 years for 90%+ occupancy. What better way to ensure that contract by abusing the sex offender status. Oh Montana, don’t allow this to happen! Let’s not demean those victims that truly go through these horrible type crimes. Let’s ensure that the real criminals will be put behind bars and not innocent people. No more allowing other inmates of crimes of theft, drug charges, DUI’s etc. to be labeled sex offenders. This is abuse of the registry!