Mistaken identity: Case highlights wrongful conviction risk in FL cases

Law enforcement authorities have various protocols in place to reduce the risk of arresting or charging the wrong person. Many people in Melbourne have faith in this aspect of the justice system and believe the risk of an innocent person facing wrongful arrest or conviction is low. However, one recent case calls attention to the fact that mistakes can still happen, sometimes due to lapses on the part of authorities.

Multiple mistaken arrests

In January 2014, law enforcement authorities from Clay County arrested a single mother from Louisiana for allegedly committing financial crimes. Unfortunately, the woman was not really the suspect they were looking for, according to the Washington Times. The woman shared a first and last name with the alleged perpetrator, along with some similarities in appearance.

The woman was held in jail for five weeks before she managed to convince authorities that she was not the real suspect. Then, when she appeared in court in May so that the charges against her could be dropped, police arrested her a second time, leading to another week in jail, according to New York Daily News.

A subsequent investigation indicated that detectives likely took "shortcuts" when identifying the woman and obtaining the warrant for her arrest, according to the Washington Times. According to the same source, the woman stated in an interview that police didn't even take her fingerprints.

Such cases are rare, but not unheard of. In August 2013, another law enforcement officer from Clay County arrested the wrong teenager on sexual assault charges, according to New York Daily News. The teenager and the real suspect shared the same first and last name, and they went to the same high school. Authorities made the initial arrest based on this information alone; they never confirmed the teenager's identity by asking the victim to look at a photograph.

The victims of these wrongful arrests suffered serious consequences. The teenager spent 35 days in jail, while the Louisiana mother lost her job and home. However, these people were fortunate in the sense that the mistakes leading to their arrests were eventually brought to light. Their plights call attention to the fact that many other people may face wrongful arrests and, in worst-case situations, wrongful convictions.

Common causes of wrongful convictions

Several factors can contribute to the wrongful conviction of an innocent person, according to the Innocence Project. These include:

  • Faulty identifications on the part of eyewitnesses
  • Incorrect information from snitches or other informants
  • Poor forensic science or misconduct on the part of law enforcement

Surprisingly, an innocent person's own actions can also contribute to wrongful convictions. People who know they are innocent may be less vigorous about defending their rights or asserting their innocence. Sometimes, the innocent accused may even make false confessions.

In about 30 percent of DNA exoneration cases, the defendant pled guilty, made self-incriminating comments or confessed, according to the Innocence Project. Various factors can contribute to these outcomes. External influences, such as threats or duress, may affect a person's actions. Alternately, factors such as intoxication, mental impairment or a poor understanding of the consequences may affect a person's judgment.

Given the risk of wrongful convictions, anyone who has been arrested and faces criminal charges should speak with an attorney as soon as possible. Regardless of the circumstances, an attorney can provide advice on legal rights and options for challenging the charges.