It is a fact of the human condition that we make mistakes. As much as we would like to think our social structures, institutions and systems are without flaw, the reality is that they reflect merely reflect our ideals. They are only as good as the human beings who run them.
It's for that reason that the court system has as many levels of appeals as it does. Regardless of whether a person commits a low-level crime or something as serious as murder, the right to challenge a conviction or sentence exists. The exercise of the right may be difficult, but with the stakes being life and liberty it makes sense to consult an experienced attorney about options for possible relief.
Sometimes the result leaves gaping questions about exactly what happened in a given case. But if the system is to survive, it has to be prepared to do reverse itself and set a defendant free if evidence shows there has been a wrongful conviction.
As a stark example of this in action, consider the circumstances of a Chicago double-homicide case from 1982. As news stories have explained, one man was convicted of the crime and sentenced to death. But hours before his execution in 1999, he was released when an investigation by a group of Northwestern University journalism students secured a confession from a second man. The case has been cited as being a key reason why the death penalty was abandoned in Illinois.
But in a stunning development last week, the Cook County State's Attorney asked the court to drop the charges against the second defendant, too. Her action followed a year-long investigation that looked into whether the tactics used by the group from Northwestern to elicit the defendant's confession amounted to coercion.
In comments to the media about the latest development, the prosecutor said that the process that had been used was so deeply corrupted that the second conviction wasn't sustainable.
Officials indicate that the first suspect convicted of the crime and set free is still implicated, but he can't be tried again because of the constitutional shield against double jeopardy.
Chicago Sun Times, "In stunning reversal, Alstory Simon, convicted in double murder, released from custody," Frank Main, Stefano Esposito, Rummana Hussain and Mitch Dudek, Oct. 30, 2014