It took 43 years to discover Strickland’s innocence, and his story is an anomaly. While an estimated 20,000 innocent people are currently incarcerated, just 90 are exonerated in a given year.
Strickland’s story gives hope for those wrongfully incarcerated. But it’s a grave miscarriage of justice that he was incarcerated to begin with. Cases like this remind us just how pressing the issue of criminal justice reform is.
To minimize wrongful incarcerations, we have to reexamine every aspect of the criminal justice system and develop concrete solutions that improve problems rife throughout the system. One concrete solution is to beef up the technological infrastructure of public defender’s offices.
There is an ever-growing chasm between the quality of technology available to law enforcement and public defenders. A 2019 New York Times article found that void comes in two forms: Law enforcement has more power to obtain information than public defenders, and law enforcement has more money to acquire the newest technologies.
Case in point: New York City’s digital forensics labs. The Legal Aid Society in New York built its lab for $100,000. The Manhattan DA’s office built one for $10 million.
After extensive research, the Times concluded that most other public defender’s offices do not have access to the equipment that Legal Aid has in Manhattan. Legal Aid’s Manhattan office is the best around for public defenders and even it doesn’t hold a candle to most District Attorney’s offices.
This technological gap has a number of implications. But most importantly, it puts the accused at a distinct disadvantage.
An enormous volume of data is used in criminal trials. Body camera footage, interrogation videos, jail calls, and more are vital pieces of evidence that could be used to exonerate an accused individual. Eighty percent of criminal cases use this kind of data, but the vast majority of public defenders lack the resources to review it in its entirety.
In other words, critical evidence that could be used to exonerate the wrongfully accused is not being used to its fullest extent. In some cases, it’s not being used at all.
Think about the justice that could be delivered if public defenders had access to technology that enabled them to examine all of the evidence available at trial.
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I’ve seen first-hand public defenders struggle to effectively represent their clients due to a lack of resources. It’s why I co-founded JusticeText.
At JusticeText, we’ve created software that creates transcripts of video evidence. Public defenders are able to highlight the text, search by keyword, and even create video clips for trial. Most importantly, they’re able to review all the evidence available to their clients. In fact, attorneys report that JusticeText software saves them 30%-50% more time.
Technological advancement has radically changed almost every industry. It’s time we improve the criminal justice system like we have every other sector. But, we don’t need more solutions like facial recognition technology or gang databases. Those just fast track arrests and incarcerations.
Instead, we need solutions that are specifically curated to public defenders and their needs. The Constitution protects one’s right to effective counsel. Public defenders cannot provide clients with effective counsel until the technological gaps that hinder them are filled. Until these technological solutions are developed and available for all public defenders’ offices, many accused individuals will not see a fair trial.
By leveling the technological playing field shared by prosecutors and public defenders, we can lower the rate of wrongful incarcerations. Delivering justice to an estimated 20,000 innocent people behind bars and preventing that number from growing is a key step on the road to a fairer criminal justice system.
Mehrota is co-founder of JusticeText, a tech start-up providing video evidence management software to public defenders. Devshi is in a pilot partnership with the NYC Mayor’s office to roll out JusticeText to 50 attorneys representing low-income New Yorkers in criminal court.