And why does this happen? Are there too many Lionel Hutzes and Barry Zuckercorns in this country? Well, bad lawyers are definitely one factor, as are bad science, unreliable and/or coerced testimony, and public and/or government pressure in emotionally charged cases. But the honor of the largest problem belongs to eyewitness misidentification, because as anyone who's ever tried to explain last night's episode of Gotham to you can probably attest, our memories suck. Can you remember what everyone in your classroom or office was wearing yesterday? How about the hair, eye color, and facial structure of the dude you bought lunch from? Does your recollection seem substantial enough to send someone to prison? The justice system thinks so!
And then there's the question of prosecutors. America is the only country in the world that elects its prosecutors -- which, for reasons that will soon become clear, is fucking lunacy. Prosecutors are 10 percent more likely to take a case to trial in the year leading up to an election; a number that rises to 25 percent when the election isn't going to be a shoo-in. And because a losing record doesn't look good when you're running for reelection, this produces Saul-Goodman-esque tactics of suppressing evidence, buttering up witnesses, and flat-out lying. In a study of 1,621 wrongly convicted people, nearly half were put away by a prosecutor who was somewhat less-than-on-the-level. Incidentally, in a study of 707 cases of lawyer misconduct, only six prosecutors were punished. Apparently, the best way to avoid a conviction is to commit a crime in the courtroom itself.