Sadly, the story of John Doe (name withheld for privacy) is not uncommon. Innocence Project estimates that somewhere “between 2.3% and 5% of all prisoners in the U.S. are innocent.” That’s close to 100,000 people that could potentially be wrongly incarcerated at the time you are reading this post. To this effect, in 2013, California Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 618 into law in an attempt to help rectify this issue in the state. In this case, the victim of a 2006 shooting, John Doe 2, was evidently forced to misidentify his attacker by a police Sergeant, who was then the investigating officer in the crime. John Doe 2 identified John Doe from a photo lineup and he is currently entrenched in his second lawsuit against both the city and the officer. He spent a total of 7 years in a California State Prison and his release was due, in part, to the hard work of the Innocence Project housed at Santa Clara University.
So, where did things to wrong in this case? He claims that the officer badly mishandled the case by failing to follow appropriate procedure during the photo lineup. Seemingly, not one of the 5 photographs placed in front of John Doe 2 for his perusal even remotely resembled John Doe, yet the officer pressed his witness to choose the 6th, John Doe. John Doe 2 had already stated that his assailant was bald, yet his photograph shows him with a full head of hair. John Doe 2 now claims that he felt pressured to choose the photograph that the officer pointed to because he felt beholden to him for helping with the case. Additionally, he believed that if he identified his actual shooter that his life and the lives of his family members might be in danger. What resulted was an inexcusable miscarriage of justice that landed an innocent man in prison. More than this, it shows just how the unethical conduct of one officer might affect an entire case and other people’s constitutional rights. This seems too high a price to pay for simply closing a case more quickly or bolstering one’s career.