Wrongful conviction: Saga of injustice

The horrors faced by a person thrown in jail for crimes they have not committed, cannot be understood unless one lives it.


Wrongful conviction is one of the most fundamental misdeeds conducted by the state. Wrongful conviction is the malady of our criminal justice system. India, being an inquisitorial system, the burden is on the prosecution to prove that an individual has committed crime. But often in the zeal of seeking justice, it punishes and prosecutes the wrong individual which is far much worse.

The concept of jail Is a very elusive concept. Not many know the actual conditions of jails in India. They are in pathetic shape some lacking in even the basic necessities of life like an appropriate space to rest and sanitation. In the twenty first century when the criminal justice systems around the worlds are slowly moving on from a retributive to a reformative, this is a violation of the basic principle of human dignity. Living in such conditions as a convict is miserable, and individuals who are innocent, but wrongfully prosecuted by the state, it shatters their entire belief in the justice delivery system.

The concept of wrongful convictions in India, is not a new concept. It has been taking since time immemorial. In India, there a lack of compensation scheme or legal mechanism, this allows the state to be punished for its mistakes. Thus the victims of justice delivery system often knock on the doors of courts to seek redressal. There are a plethora of cases which adjudicated upon by the various courts of our country which show this.

Article 21 of the constitution guarantees to each and every individual the right to personal liberty and live their life with dignity. This right to live with dignity is not mere animal existence, but to live in a free society in which they are protected by the atrocities of the state. The infringement of fundamental right due to police atrocities and prosecutorial misconduct, evokes that state liability and it cannot shelter itself under the garb of sovereign powers. The state must compensate the individuals for wrongs committed by it and by its agents or servants. Though the constitution is silent on the concept of compensation, however, judiciary over the years have evolved the compensatory jurisprudence wherein the state is imposed with liability for the violations of human rights. In this case also, miscarriage of justice, being one the most essential human guaranteed to humans, the state has the duty to compensate the victims for the wrongful convictions.

Wrongful Conviction: A Form of Miscarriage of Justice

Wharton’s Law Lexicon defines "Miscarriage of Justice as the failure of justice. It is an error in justice meaning i.e. in the interpretation, procedure, or execution of the law which violates the basic due process and can lead to wrongful conviction of innocent people."

The Delhi High Court In Babloo Chauhan v N.C.T Delhi, held that wrongful conviction is a form of miscarriage of justice and there must be legislative framework to ensure that people are not wrongfully incarcerated and prosecuted and if they are adequate remedies provided to them.

 In Bibhabati Devi v. Ramendra Narayan Roy, the Privy Council held that departure from the rules that permeate all judicial procedures so as to make the resulting proceedings not in the proper sense of the word ‘judicial procedure’ at all. Thus, in such a case there can be a violation of law or procedure which results in an erroneous interpretation or where the negligence of the officers of law or procedure and leads to conviction of an innocent individual.

The Supreme Court in Ayodhya Dube & Ors. V. Ram Sumar Singh, held that lack of judicial approach, non-application of mind by the prosecution and the courts and inappropriate consideration of important evidence amounts to perversity which can give rise to grave miscarriage of justice.

Miscarriage of justice has gone through many interpretations by the courts. The court in K. Chinnaswamy Reddy v. State of Andhra Pradesh, held that a glaring defect in the procedure or a patent error in law can lead to flagrant miscarriage of justice. In State of Punjab v. Madan Mohan Lal Verma, the court held that non-compliance of the principles of natural justice deprives the accused to explain a particular circumstance. Nemo judex causa sua is not only a principle of natural justice but it is enshrined in the law books and is the edifice of a fair trial. If such is not conducted, it is a form of miscarriage of justice.

Several factors can contribute to wrongful convictions in various legal systems. Some common factors include:

1.Eyewitness Misidentification: Mistaken identification by witnesses is a leading factor in wrongful convictions. Factors like poor lighting, stress, and the cross-racial nature of the identification can lead to errors.

2.False Confessions: Coerced confessions or false admissions can result from psychological pressure, intimidation, exhaustion, or a desire to end interrogation. Vulnerable individuals, such as juveniles or those with intellectual disabilities, are particularly susceptible.

3.Inadequate Legal Representation: Insufficient legal counsel can prevent defendants from presenting their case effectively, leading to unfair trial outcomes. Public defenders might have heavy caseloads and limited resources.

4.Misconduct by Law Enforcement: Police and prosecutors withholding evidence or manipulating witnesses can distort the truth and lead to wrongful convictions. Tunnel vision or a desire to solve a case can result in ignoring alternative suspects or evidence.

5.Junk Science: Reliance on unproven or outdated forensic techniques can lead to incorrect conclusions. Courts might admit evidence that lacks scientific validity, such as bite mark analysis or hair comparison.

6.Inaccurate Forensic Evidence: Even legitimate forensic evidence can be misinterpreted or presented in a misleading manner. The subjectivity of some analyses makes them prone to errors.

7.Snitch Testimony: Jailhouse informants might provide testimony in exchange for reduced sentences or other incentives, leading to unreliable evidence that can sway juries.

8.Prosecutorial Misconduct: Overzealous prosecutors might suppress exculpatory evidence or engage in unethical tactics to secure convictions.

9.Racial Bias: Racial profiling, stereotypes, and systemic biases can lead to unfair targeting, arrests, and convictions of individuals from marginalized communities.

10.Media Influence and Public Pressure: High-profile cases or media coverage can create a presumption of guilt before trial, influencing jurors’ perceptions and decisions.

11.Ineffective Jury Selection: Jury selection processes might exclude individuals with certain perspectives, leading to unrepresentative juries that can affect fair verdicts.

12.Lack of Access to DNA Testing: In cases where DNA evidence could conclusively prove innocence, limited access to testing or preservation of evidence can prevent exoneration.

13.Plea Bargains: Innocent individuals might accept plea deals to avoid the risk of harsher sentences if they go to trial, especially when facing overwhelming evidence.

International Perspective

Wrongful Conviction is a violation of human rights. Thus the concept has been enumerated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1945. The United Nations Human Rights Committee also has elaborated that States must enact a suitable legislation to ensure that compensation is paid to the victims in case of wrongful convictions and that the payment is made within a reasonable time frame. Further, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966 was a path breaking declaration signed and adopted by the world community to prevent miscarriage of justice. ICCPR confers an obligation upon the State to prevent the cases of miscarriage of justice resulting from wrongful conviction. Under Article 14(6) of ICCPR the State has to compensate the victim for a wrongful conviction provided that the conviction was final, and was later reversed or pardoned on the ground of that he was innocent.

Many states in consonance with the above mentioned guidelines have implemented their own statutory provision. In United Kingdom’s, the Criminal Justice Act of 1988 has been implemented. Under sections 133, 133A, and 133B of the Act, the Secretary of State, shall pay compensation to a person who has suffered punishment as a result of a wrongful conviction, subject to specific conditions. In Germany, a similar provision has been provided under Article 34 in the Constitution of Germany, 1949. The United States, often known as the champions of human rights have provided dual liability of the government, both through state and federal laws.

Remedies under Law

In India, there a lack of compensation scheme or legal mechanism which allows the state to be punished for its mistakes. There are no clear cut provisions in the statutes which provide the victims to seek redressal. There are various judgements, reports and commentaries on the same, but a clear elucidated provision has not been enumerated in the law books.

There are some remedies which are based on the following cases with respect to miscarriage of justice resulting in wrongful prosecution:-

In Rudal Shah v. State of Bihar, Khatri v State of Bihar, Boma Chara Oraon v. State of Bihar, Bhim Singh, MLA v. State of J & K & Ors.,SAHELI, A Women’s Resources center & Ors. V. Commissioner of Police Delhi, the Supreme Court has awarded compensation and held the state liable for the atrocities. The most crucial in the recent years is Nilabati Behera v. State of Orissa whereby the court held that award of compensation in writ proceedings is a remedy under public law and this is based on the principle of strict liability due to the violation of fundamental rights.

In Ram Lakhan Singh v. State Government of Uttar Pradesh, the hon’ble Supreme Court held that in cases of wrongful prosecution, it is an infringement of a fundamental right of individual. It is an abuse of process of law. Thus the courts in such a case have the power to order the State to pay compensation to the aggrieved party to rehabilitate him and set as example of deterrence.

In State of Rajasthan V. Smt. Vidhyawathi, it was held that India being a Republican Form of Government and being a socialistic State should be held liable vicariously for the tortious acts of its servant. The concept of immunity of the State for the tortious acts of its officials is thus no longer present and the distinction between sovereign and non-sovereign functions is not a ground for negation of liability of acts of sovereign. Civil suits acts a remedy by holding the State accountable for the actions and further by payment of monetary damages.

In State of Bihar v. Rameshwar Prasad Baidya & Anr, the court held that for criminal proceeding which were initiated by the state to harass him, it is a form of malicious prosecution and the state would be liable to pay damages to the victim.

In State v. Mohd. Naushad & Ors, Delhi High Court in its order noted that the police showed casualness and callousness and there have been grave lapses by the police authorities and the entire investigation done in an all betraying a slipshod approach. The court held that the police officials must be punished for bad investigation techniques which resulted in a mistake in the presumption of guilt and the entire case going to haywire.

In Mohd. Jalees Ansari & Ors. V. Central Bureau of Investigation, the accused had been taken in to police custody in the year 1994, then booked for a bomb blast in Hyderabad under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, 1987 (TADA), and subsequently for bomb blasts again in 1993. A confession was made the accused and he was sent to a prison in Ajmer, where he spent the next 23 years during which a TADA court convicted him and gave him life sentence. In 2016, the matter reached the Supreme Court, wherein the court overturned the TADA court’s decision, ruling that the confession was not true and taken under duress and being the sole basis of the conviction didn’t have legal sanction and was inadmissible. Finally, after 23 long years of wrongful imprisonment, Nissarudin was exonerated of all charges.


India is no longer a police state, it is a welfare state. The state has increased its ambit tremendously in the past few years and it is in every aspect of the citizen’s life, i.e. from cradle to grave. In such a case, state atrocity in the form of wrongful conviction is a violation of human rights. This is a form of miscarriage of justice and there must be legislative framework to ensure that people are not wrongfully incarcerated and prosecuted and if they are adequate remedies are provided for them.

Editor’s Note

The horrors faced by a person thrown in jail for crimes they have not committed, cannot be understood unless one lives it. Our jails are overflowing with thousands of innocent under trials languishing for years. Once thrown inside jail, society draws no distinction between an accused or a convict. The author put forth the reason behind such injustice in India.

There is an old saying that a hundred murderers should be let out but not one innocent should suffer. Sadly, the reality of our criminal justice system is that, people are languishing in jail due to wrongful convictions are there is no adequate and appropriate remedy for them.

The author mentioned the concept of wrongful conviction as a miscarriage of justice with the international perspective. And also the remedies available based on different court-cases.

Choose A Format
Formatted Text with Embeds and Visuals
Youtube and Vimeo Embeds
Voting to make decisions or determine opinions
Trivia quiz
Series of questions with right and wrong answers that intends to check knowledge