The selected case of wrongful conviction and exoneration was Alice Sebold and Anthony Broadwater. Sebold, 18, was a freshman at Syracuse University from suburban Philadelphia when she was raped in 1981. Five months later, she saw Broadwater, 20, and was certain that he was the person who defiled her. Broadwater was doomed from the start of the case by a series of wrong decisions made by the legal authorities (Dowty). They were focused on getting justice for a white college girl who had been raped in the city park and paid little heed to the damage that it had done to the life of a young black man. Their rush to convict Anthony of the rape caused the police, judges, and prosecutors to cut corners. The police held the case even when Sebold could not distinguish between Broadwater and another black man.
Despite this, prosecutors pushed to indict him, and a judge declared him guilty even though the evidence was unreliable. The trial started in 1982 and lasted only two days. The evidence analysis was based on the forensic chemists of pubic hair as DNA analysis was not available at the time. Throughout the case, Broadwater remained emphatic that he was the wrong guy. His skin color likely played a significant role in all those decisions (Dowty). Broadwater was convicted of rape in 1982 and spent over 16 years in jail and 23 years on the register of sex offenders. After reading a memoir that Sebold had written about her case, Timothy Mucciante revisited the case and identified many concerning details. A New York court acquitted him in November 2021.
Factors that Contributed to the Wrongful Conviction
Misidentification of the suspect is the leading cause of wrongful conviction in this case. The prosecution team relied heavily on Ms. Sebold’s identifying her rapist five months after the crime had been done. In this case, Ms. Sebold overconfidently believed that Mr. Broadwater was the person who raped her. At the time of the crime, Ms. Sebold could have been traumatized and failed to recall the actual culprit. The error can also be noted during the police lineup, where she selected another suspect. This can be said to be an honest mistake. However, some facial features that could have separated Mr. Broadwater from other suspects, such as a scar from surgery he had, were ignored. Maslow notes that misidentification errors can occur due to a suspect standing out more in a photo or lineup. The police also led her to choose the suspect after selecting the wrong person during the lineup.
Incorrect forensics also contributed to the wrongful conviction. The case relied on flawed hair comparison testimony and failed to consider Mr. Broadwater’s two polygraph tests that he had passed. Hair analysis has been classified as not as conclusive as DNA testing. Maslow adds that flawed assumptions cause forensic scientists to make the wrong conclusion about the evidence. In many cases, the court is not assessed whether it has exaggerated or used false evidence. Unfortunately, the experts that present this evidence are believed by prosecutors and judges even when they are inconclusive. The case was exacerbated by Mr. Broadwater being a black person.
Wrongful Conviction’s Consequences
The first impact of the wrongful conviction and exoneration can be viewed from the eyes of the original victims, who may feel guilt, devastation, depression, fear, and helplessness. Most of them have to consider that the convicted person was also a victim while the original offender went free. For some, the pardon can be compared to or even considered worse than the crime committed. XXX notes that the victims are comfortable with their place and are victims when there is an offender in jail. However, this changes when the offender is said to have been wrongly convicted since they are seen as the victims, while the crime victims are seen as the offenders. The switch in roles creates fear as they fear that the wrongfully convicted person may come after them following the pardon.
The second impact of wrongful conviction can be described based on the experiences of the convicted people. Brooks and Greenberg (50-53) assert that the impacts are complex and long-lasting. Most individuals report adverse experiences on their reputation, self-identity, physical and psychological health, attitudes towards the justice system, finances, relationships with others, and adjusting to society. These issues compound each other and exacerbate the mental difficulties of being wrongfully accused and jailed. Mr. Broadwater stayed for 23 years with a criminal record that affected his social life, such that he could not get a decent job, his every move was monitored, and he faced stigma such that he was not willing to raise a family. The experience of the jail term he served also left him with physical injuries and mental difficulties since he thought he might also die in prison following an incident he had observed in prison.
Brooks, Samantha K., and Neil Greenberg. “Psychological impact of being wrongfully accused of criminal offences: A systematic literature review.” Medicine, Science and the Law 61.1 (2021): 44-54.
Dowty, Douglass. “Alice Sebold Case: How Race And Incompetence Doomed Anthony Broadwater To Prison”. Syracuse, 2022, https://www.syracuse.com/news/2022/01/alice-sebold-case-how-race-and-incompetence-doomed-anthony-broadwater-to-prison.html.
Maslow, Jacob. “6 Most Common Causes Of Wrongful Convictions”. Legalscoops, 2020, https://www.legalscoops.com/6-most-common-causes-of-wrongful-convictions/.