- Wrongful prosecution has been on the rise since time immemorial.
- The lengthy legal procedure of India is known to everyone, which delays the final decision of the Court.
- The innocent citizens are subjected to years of prison for an offence that they have not even committed.
- After the person is exonerated, he still has to go through the trauma and social stigma that the society holds against an accused.
- The article discusses the plight of the wrongfully prosecuted persons along with a global perspective on wrongful prosecution.
It is common knowledge that a criminal is looked down upon in our society. But what happens when a person is not actually the perpetrator but is made one by the authorities? The survivor of a false conviction suffers in two ways in our criminal justice system. First, it is psychological and personal, because the individual who has been incarcerated has done time in prison for a crime he did not commit. Second, due to the criminal justice system's inefficiency, the perpetrator of a false conviction is sentenced to a lifetime of societal hatred and condemnation.
The causes that contribute to the miscarriage of justice have long been known to the judiciary. Furthermore, their failure to take action to provide a unified legal framework for compensation demonstrates their disregard of the victims’ precarious situation. The judiciary's failure to act continues to damage the country’s judicial system.
In Rudal Shah v. State of Bihar, the Supreme Court had to decide whether or not to compensate a falsely convicted victim whose fundamental rights had been violated. The petitioner was wrongfully imprisoned for 14 years and filed a Habeas Corpus petition with the Supreme Court, requesting compensation and other reliefs under Article 32 of the Constitution. If the Court ordered the petitioner’s acquittal without any compensation, the Court believed that Article 21 would be nullified.
The National Human Rights Commission is empowered by the Protection of Human Rights Act of 1993 to investigate illegal detentions, false convictions, incarcerations, and other human rights breaches. Following an investigation, the NHRC may propose that the State Government must pay compensation and pursue legal action against erring authorities.
After a long legal struggle of 24 years, the Supreme Court in S. Nambi Narayanan v. State of Kerala awarded Rs. 50 lakh in compensation to an ISRO scientist who was falsely accused of espionage. The fact that reparation was granted 24 years after the erroneous conviction emphasises the importance of swiftly rectifying wrongdoings. While hearing a writ petition in the case of Ram Lakhan Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh, the Court ordered a compensation of Rs.10 lakhs to the petitioner, who had fought a ten-year legal fight.
The six people seeking compensation were accused of being involved in the terrorist attack on Akshardham in Gujarat in 2002. They were acquitted by a Supreme Court bench in 2014 after serving ten years in prison in response to their appeal against their conviction. The bench found that the prosecution had failed to prove their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and that they were entitled to be free of all charges. But their plea for compensation was rejected by the Court.
Incidents of Exoneration
The police have arrested a 19-year-old kid in connection with a bombing at a school. He was ‘sentenced to life’ by the Terrorist and Disruptive Act (TADA) Court in Ajmer, only to be exonerated by the Supreme Court on the ground that his confession obtained in police custody was inadmissible. Due to the combined carelessness of the judiciary and the authorities, the guy lost 23 years of his life. He received no remuneration from the court. He became impoverished, and his financial situation made it impossible for him to file a claim for compensation.
A carpenter from East Delhi had been charged under attempt to murder to which he repeatedly claimed that he was not present at the crime scene. The Court, after six years, confirmed his innocence and he was acquitted. He not only had to go through the physical and emotional trauma of being imprisoned for an offence he had no knowledge of but also got infected due to the bad food and sanitation facility of the prison which led to kidney problem for him. He undergoes dialysis every month and he has to bear the expenses of the treatment.
Madhumala Das was imprisoned and detained for three years in an Assam detention centre for a crime she had never committed. Her deaf and dumb daughter toured the village in search of her mother, and she quickly became traumatised. In the investigation, the case turned out to be one of mistaken identity. Her resemblance to the perpetrator cost her three years of her life. Her daughter suffered an irreversible loss as a result of the police's incompetence.
In a similar case, 127 people were accused of a crime and out of which 122 were acquitted after 20 years of imprisonment but 5 of them were exonerated posthumously. They died being branded as criminals. This brings us to the question of what is the point of exoneration in such a case. Even if a person is acquitted and his charges are removed, it does not make him quilt free for the society and nor does it restore his reputation. The loss to the families of those 5 people cannot be compensated with any amount of money.
Recently, a jail guard was terminated from his service and on appeal, he was reinstated but the appellate authority did not grant him pay and allowances from the termination to reinstatement. The Court held that he was entitled to get the full pay and allowances as it is given as a fundamental rule.
According to Article 14 (6) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, governments must have a legal framework in place to compensate and rehabilitate persons who have been wrongly persecuted by the government.
Since 1989, 2,000 falsely convicted individuals have been exonerated for state and federal offences, according to the National Registry of Exonerations in the United States. In 2016, 166 people were exonerated across the country, the most since the record began over 30 years ago. The ‘Justice for All’ Act was enacted by Congress in 2004 with bipartisan support. Individuals exonerated of federal crimes are entitled to $50,000 for each year spent in prison and $100,000 for each year spent on death row, according to the legislation.
Frances Lee Watson, founder of the Indiana University McKinney School of Law's Wrongful Conviction Clinic, expressed hope that politicians will continue to campaign for restitution. “In Indiana, convictions are continually being overturned and individuals are still being exonerated, but we don't have a compensation law,” she explained.
From 1983 to 1989, Japan's Innocence and Death Information Center identified four exonerations from death row, but none since 1989. Jiang Guoqing, a former air force personnel, was unlawfully executed in Taiwan. When the real criminal, Xu Rongjiu, confessed, he was exonerated. Where lethal penalty is used to discourage offenders, wrongful execution is common.
Due to political pressure, police frequently arrest innocent persons based on their religion or ethnicity in order to quickly conclude the case. The cops are unconcerned about the consequences of their actions, causing misery to innocent people. Not only do wrongful arrests and imprisonment cause years to pass, but victims are often exposed to social isolation and ostracism when they are released.
The convictions that have kept one distant from friends and relatives for years, as well as the potential to improve one's skills, will not go away with liberation. When a citizen is wrongly prosecuted, she loses her life – the possibilities and ambitions that come with it, mental and physical health, dignity, and social status - not only for herself but for her family as well. If such a loss can be monetised, it can be done in an exceptional manner. Though in terms of returning the years being wrongfully detained and the loss to the pride and reputation of the person cannot be compensated, it is important that at least an attempt is being made to compensate.