I never imagined that this would be part of my story. Having worked as a private investigator for over a decade, I have found a passion in working for the wrongfully convicted. Wrongfully convicted individuals are those who have been found guilty of a crime they did not commit, often due to errors or flaws in the criminal justice system. Common factors contributing to wrongful convictions include mistaken eyewitness identification, false confessions, inadequate legal defense, poor police work, prosecutorial misconduct, flawed forensic evidence, and perjury by witnesses. As with many causes, people don’t become passionate until something happens to someone they love. This was thankfully not how I became involved in working for the innocent. My work brought me here. However, having met several exonerees, I began feeling a tug at my heart. The suffering of those wrongfully convicted is gutting to hear and wholly unacceptable. I felt a responsibility to do something. I began to really contemplate how, as a society, we can be so unconcerned about even one person wrongfully imprisoned, much less thousands. I had to really do the research and sit with the numbers. Then I start realizing that I am not just looking at numbers because every number is a person who has a story. Every one of these stories begins with a person hearing the words, GUILTY! But tragically, they are not. According to https://www.georgiainnocenceproject.org/general/beneath-the-statistics-the-structural-and-systemic-causes-of-our-wrongful-conviction-problem/, it is estimated that between 4-6% of people incarcerated in U.S. prisons are actually innocent. If 5% of individuals are actually innocent, that means 1/20 criminal cases result in a wrongful conviction. According to https://www.prisonpolicy.org/profiles/OK.html, Oklahoma has an incarceration rate of 993 per 100,000 people. This is exponentially higher than both the national and international level. It then stands to reason that Oklahoma has a high number of wrongfully convicted individuals. As a private investigator, I can play a crucial role in post-conviction cases, especially in situations where there is doubt about the guilt of the convicted individual or where new evidence has come to light. The primary objective is to investigate and gather information that can help overturn wrongful convictions or uncover new evidence that could lead to a more just outcome.
Here are the key roles that private investigators often play in post-conviction cases:
1. Reinvestigating the Case:
Private investigators review all aspects of the case, including evidence, witness testimonies, police reports, and trial transcripts. They look for inconsistencies, errors, or overlooked details that may have affected the conviction.2. Interviewing Witnesses:
Private investigators locate and interview witnesses who may not have testified during the original trial or whose testimonies were not thoroughly explored. They aim to uncover new information or contradictions in existing witness statements.
3. Collecting New Evidence:
Investigators search for new evidence, such as DNA evidence, surveillance footage, or forensic analysis, which was not available or tested during the initial trial. The goal is to demonstrate the convicted individual's innocence.
4. Background Investigations:
Private investigators often conduct background checks on key individuals involved in the case, including law enforcement officers, witnesses, and the victim. This can help uncover potential biases, conflicts of interest, or credibility issues.
5. Alibi Verification:
If the convicted individual claims to have had an alibi that was not properly explored during the trial, private investigators work to verify the alibi by finding corroborating evidence or witnesses.
6. Examining Police Conduct:
Investigating the conduct of law enforcement officers involved in the case is critical. Private investigators may look into allegations of misconduct, evidence tampering, coerced confessions, or other irregularities that could have influenced the conviction.
7. Reviewing Forensic Evidence:
Private investigators collaborate with forensic experts to reexamine the validity of forensic evidence presented during the trial. They may identify errors in testing procedures or challenge the accuracy of results.
8. Documenting Findings:
Investigators document their findings meticulously, compiling a comprehensive report that outlines all new evidence, witness statements, and potential issues with the original case. This report can be used by legal teams in the appeals process.
9. Supporting Legal Efforts:
Private investigators work closely with legal teams to prepare for post-conviction proceedings, including appeals, habeas corpus petitions, and requests for a new trial. Their findings can be critical in presenting a compelling case for exoneration.
10. Testifying in Court:
In some cases, private investigators may be called as expert witnesses during post-conviction hearings to testify about their findings and the investigative process.
As a private investigator working in post-conviction cases, acting as advocate for the justice of those wrongfully incarcerated is as rewarding as working to uncover the truth and rectify miscarriages of justice. It is my goal to help provide investigative resources to assist in the exoneration of wrongfully convicted individuals and ensure that the criminal justice system functions fairly and accurately. I am willing to try to make a difference, even if it is one case, one innocent person at a time.