Sunday, February 28, 2016

Wrongful convictions in Arkansas

Plea bargaining abuse

Research proves that wrongful convictions are happening now more than ever before, and while there is no concrete documentation of wrongful conviction in Arkansas, it is still happening.

Through the eyes of a mother, watching the time pass can be hard. Sharon Cornice explained, “It’s been really rough for me.”

Seconds turn into minutes, minutes to hours and then days into years. Twelve to be exact. It was July 15, 2003 that Cornice’s son, Ralph Crutchfield, was placed behind bars.

Crutchfield was charged with aggravated robbery and sentenced to 30 years. His family said he was the victim of a wrongful conviction. Cornice asked, “Why would you give somebody 30 years when there’s no physical evidence?”

For years, Cornice has been gathering evidence from the case. The initial police report, a police lineup and pages of transcripts are all documents that Cornice believes point to her son’s innocence. The problem is, Crutchfield pled guilty in court.

“The attorney said you won’t be able to ever get out. It scared Ralph. So, Ralph pleaded guilty,” said Cornice.

“If they go to trial, they can be convicted even if they’re innocent, and the punishment could be three, four, five even 10 times higher than the sentence they will serve if they plea bargain, even if they’re innocent,” Professor Joshua Silverstein at the William Bowen School of Law said.

Silverstein explained to THV11 the incentive of people who often consider to avoid the risk of losing a trial. He continued, “The legal system is run by humans, and humans are flawed. So, there are always going to be mistakes in the legal system.”

While Arkansas keeps no documented running tally of wrongful convictions in the state, data shows more people are being convicted of crimes they didn’t commit than ever before. A report released by the University of Michigan’s National Registry of Exonerations points to 2014 as the highest year for proven wrongful convictions of innocent people. In 2014, the national record high reached 125 people proven innocent after wrongful conviction. Approximately 47 of the 125 exonerated pled guilty to crimes they were later proven to never have committed.

Silverstein explained, “The problem isn’t particular individuals acting in bad faith. That’s not what the problem is. The problem is with the rules, lack of resources and human imperfection.”

While law critics scrutinize systemic problems, Cornice continued her fight, hoping to prove his innocence. “I know that one day my son, he’ll get out of there.”

THV’s request to interview Ralph Crutchfield at Cummins Unit was denied due to his clemency petition before the governor.

Original report here

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