In Context

Though Give Up Tomorrow highlights only one case within the Philippine judicial system, it illuminates a larger concern over wrongful conviction, both in the Philippines and worldwide.

The Supreme Court of the Philippines released information in 2004 that cited a 71.77 percent judicial error rate in capital cases in the period from 1993 to 2004, when capital punishment was still legal, a percentage determined by the total number of death convictions that had been either reversed or pardoned. During this time, 651 of 907 convicted persons were saved from lethal injection due to wrongful conviction. In recognition of this high error rate, the Supreme Court issued a ruling on DNA evidence that allows post-conviction DNA testing without need of prior court order, although it also requires that a relevant biological sample exist and that testing be likely to result in the reversal or modification of the conviction.

Wrongful convictions are not unique to the Philippines. According to a report released by Columbia University researchers in May 2012, there have been a total of 2,061 inmate and ex-convicts exonerated of serious crimes in the United States since 1989. Worldwide, DNA evidence has assisted in clearing the names of hundreds of wrongfully-convicted prisoners, many of whom were on death row or facing other serious sentences. Use of DNA technology to revisit past convictions has led to 297 exonerations in the United States alone. Organizations like the Innocence Project view this as an indicator of systemic faults in the justice system of the United States and note that there may be thousands in the system who were wrongfully convicted, at least some of them impossible to exonerate because there is no DNA evidence for their cases.

Lengthy police station stays and interrogations are just one of many reasons for wrongful convictions, which vary based on the particular case and country. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, wrongful conviction in death penalty cases was due in 45 percent of cases to eyewitness misidentification, in 17 percent to government misconduct, in 10 percent to "snitches," in 9 percent to mishandled evidence or unqualified experts, in 8 percent to false confession and in 29 percent to other causes, including hearsay and questionable circumstantial evidence. (The totals add up to more than 100 percent because in many cases there is a combination of causes at work.)

In the United States, eyewitness misidentification was a factor in 72 percent of post-conviction DNA exoneration cases. It has been reported by many organizations studying this phenomenon that race may play a role, as 40 percent of identifications are cross-racial and some studies have shown that it may be more difficult for people to identify someone of a race that is not their own.

Caption: A scene from Give Up Tomorrow
Credit: Alex Badayos

» Asia Times Online. "Wrongful Conviction Puts Spotlight on Japanese Justice."
» Innocence Project. "The Causes of Wrongful Conviction."
» Innocence Project. "Eyewitness Identification Reform."
» Innocence Project. "Facts on Post-conviction DNA Exonerations."
» The Week. "25 Years of Wrongful Convictions: By the Numbers."