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Evidence refers to anything that a person can refer to in a bid to come up with a sound judgment or conclusion on whether a statement is true or false. In a court of law, evidence is an indispensable part of the court proceedings as it is offered during trial to help in exculpating or corroborating that an offender is guilty of the violation that s/he is accused to have committed. All the parties involved in a case carry the burden of collecting relevant information within their grasps that can be used in a court of law as evidence. The facts collected should be related to qualify as a probable item for evidence (Friedman, 2002). For example, if a certain person is facing murder, there should be facts of whether he or she was at the scene of crime or was somewhere else. The main aim of doing this is to convince the court to rule in one’s favor. However, due to mishandling of evidence the outcome of trials in the modern society has affected judgment tremendously as explicated in this paper.
Certain rules and regulations govern on the kind of information that can be presented in court as evidence to prove whether a certain person is guilty or not guilty as charged. There are various kinds of evidence that are acceptable and can be presented in a court. One of them is forensic evidence, which involves the use of scientific methods and technology to collect information from scenes of crime to resolve miseries surrounding the committed offense (Saferstein, 2011). Specialists collect evidence such as saliva or semen in case the victim was raped to show the identity of the perpetrator through DNA analysis. Forensic evidence is reliable especially when investigating cases of rape and murder as scientists can use fluids from the body of the perpetrator to find him/her through DNA testing and this evidence can be used in a court to convict the person or people responsible for this heinous act (Semikhodskii, 2007).
However, sometimes victims of rape fail to report to the relevant authorities on time due to fear of stigmatization. For example, the latest flare up is the Kenyan case where a male nurse on night shift allegedly raped a female patient. Instead of reporting to the police, the patient opted to report to a female nurse in the morning, and she cleaned and changed the clothes of the victim hence erasing all the forensic evidence that could pin the male nurse to the crime. Up to date, the accused is still free as there was no evidence to prove that he raped the female patient.
This example shows how mishandling of evidence can affect the outcome of a trial as the victim did not get the justice she craved for as a citizen protected by the constitution of the country. Another case that was affected by mishandling of evidence was that of O. J. Simpson who was believed to have murdered his wife. He was later to be acquitted of murder and proven not guilty of the crime as one of detectives was even accused of planting evidence incriminating Simpson as he was a racist (Waldman, 2005). In the light of these examples, it is clear that the issue of evidence mishandling runs deep into personal issues and individuals might tamper with evidence probably of out of vengeance or malice.
As prosecutors rely on forensic evidence heavily, mishandling this same evidence has led to the wrongful conviction of people who are accused of crimes that they did not commit (Lissitzyn, 2007). This scenario occurs when the scene of the crime is interfered with as in the case of Simpson where arguably, a detective probably with ill motives against Simpson planted evidence incriminating the accused. In the forensic lab where the evidence collected from the crime scene is tested, errors can occur by mislabeling or poor testing (Saferstein, 2011). This observation holds mainly because some of the forensic people lack the basic skills, knowledge, and understanding of forensic science. When this forensic misconduct from an expert happens, a victim who has no idea of the so-called crime s/he is accused of can be convicted and sent to jail for a long period.
Circumstantial evidence is another kind of evidence that can be presented in a court as evidence. This kind of evidence does not actually prove that a person committed a certain crime, but only suggest that he may be linked to it (Aleksander, 2012). Using this kind of information can lead to the conviction of an innocent person. For example, a person may be responding to a distress call from a neighbor and manage to get the weapon used by the assailant. If the assailant is not caught and no proper investigations are carried out, the Good Samaritan can be taken to court and charged with a crime s/he did not commit. This person will be linked to the weapon used in committing the crime and can be incarcerated if the defense counsel does not convince the court that its client is innocent; hence, mishandling of circumstantial evidence has affected the outcome of a trial leading to wrongful incarceration of people.
Primary source of information, which is the information gathered from documents, is a very reliable kind of information that can be presented in court. Nonetheless, some people with personal interest in distorting the outcomes of the trial can temper this kind of evidence. Crucial documents that can be used by the defense counsel to defend a client’s innocence against crimes that s/he is accused of can be destroyed. On the other hand, destroying files can aid in exonerating a suspect who has been accused of committing a crime like corruption, as there is no evidence (Lissitzyn, 2007). The amendment of documents intended to be used as evidence affects the ruling of the judge greatly mainly due to mishandling of evidence.
It is very vital that scenes of crime are sealed and accessible only to authorized people. This move ensures that the evidence collected from the scene is reliable and can be used in a court to prosecute those implicated in the crime. Sadly, in some cases, members of public temper with crime scenes as the police fail to show up on time to seal the scene completely (Saferstein, 2011). This aspect leads to the contamination of vital information and reliable forensic evidence cannot be obtained as the clues left by the criminals have been tempered with, which can lead to suspects who had been arrested in relation to the offense walking free as there is no evidence linking them to the crime.
Wrongful convictions have also been happening in courts due to false testimonies given by witnesses who are supposed to be eyewitnesses to the crime. The judges rely upon the evidence given by the witnesses, as they are the ones who saw the accused committing the crime (Friedman, 2002). In addition to this aspect, misconduct by some police officers often leads to wrongful conviction of people. In some cases, police plant incriminating evidence like drugs on people who fail to bribe them especially in places ridden with corruption. When these people are taken to the court, the first hand information that is given by the police officers will be of great importance to the judge; hence, the suspects will be convicted wrongly due to the tainted evidence.
It is paramount that the law enforcement agencies make sure that misconduct in the handling of any forensic evidence is prevented so that justice is served to all, which is achievable through strict rules and regulations that will govern the forensic labs. This aspect will be a milestone towards achieving the goal of avoiding the wrongful convictions and in the process save lives of many innocent people. In addition, evidence that is used to incarcerate suspects should be investigated thoroughly to ensure that the guilty ones are confined in jails and the innocent ones are set free to engage in nation building activities. People found guilty of mishandling evidence in order to twist the trial’s outcome to their favor should face prosecution in a bid to avert the practice. People of high moral standards and experts in prosecution matters should carry out investigations in a bid to avoid evidence mishandling.
Aleksander, A. (2012). Forensic expertise and judicial practice: evidence or proof? Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice, 18(6), 1147-50.
Friedman, L. (2002). American Law in the Twentieth Century. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Lissitzyn, C. (2007). Forensic Evidence in Court A Case Study Approach. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press.
Saferstein, R. (2011). Criminalistics: An introduction to forensic science. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
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Semikhodskii, A. (2007). Dealing with DNA evidence: A legal guide. New York, NY: Routledge-Cavendish.
Waldman, S. (2005). Beyond a Reasonable Doubt. New York, NY: Feldheim Publishers.