Throughout the history of the American justice system there has been no shortage of evolutions both in practice of all aspects of the American justice system but also evolutions in technology that makes the justice system more precise. This increase in accuracy among all phases of the justice system maintains the assertation that someone will be found guilty beyond reasonable doubt. However, before all of these current advancements in practice and technology many people were wrongly convicted of crimes they did not commit. These convictions have recently been overturned within the past two decades. One such exonerations of guilt was that of Jeff Deskovic in 2006.
Jeff Deskovic was convicted the rape and murder of a 15-year-old female in 1990. The case file states that in November of 1989 the fifteen-year-old girl was taking pictures for her school’s photography class. Two days later her body was found naked and showed signs of being raped and strangled. Police imediately turned their attention to Deskovic who was only 16 at the time. The police stated that Deskovic became the number one suspect due to him “being late to school the day after the victim disappeared”. Also, the police claimed that “he had been overly distraught with the victim’s death, visiting her wake three times”. Deskovic further aroused police suspicions when he started to conduct his own investigation. And between December of 1989 and January 1990 police spoke with Deskovic multiple times.
During the duration of this case there were multiple issues with police misconduct as well as forensic malpractice. During the span of time between increased suspicion in Deskovic and Deskovic’s conviction police asked Deskovic to take a voluntary polygraph test. There is a few problems with the administration of the polygraph test. One of the first things noticed is that a sixteen-year-old is not a legal adult. This means that they cannot submit to a voluntary polygraph test without parental consent. Another problem with the administration of the polygraph test was that the polygraph was done via private company this private company was ran by a local sheriff. This sheriff was informed that he had “been hired to get a confession”. While original police reports state that they received a confession from Deskovic upon review the confession was coheresed and involuntary and his constitutional rights were violated during the polygraph process. Deskovic was taken to the polygraph testing location without a lawyer or parents present. Throughout this polygraph process Deskovic was interrogated for six hours in these six hours he had been subject to three different polygraph tests and in between these three different polygraph tests he was subject to relentless questioning by the police. During the last polygraph test “One of the detectives accused Deskovic of having failed the test and said he had been convinced of Deskovic’s guilt for several weeks”. Only after six hours of questioning and three sessions of polygraph testing did Deskovic begin to give his false confession. Deskovic began to get confused when officers asked him to give an account of the crime, Deskovic began to switch between talking in the third person and the first person when discussing the event. “Deskovic said, “I lost my temper” and admitted he had hit the victim in the head with a Gatorade bottle, put his hand over her mouth and kept it there too long”. During this coursed confession Deskovic exhibited signs of a mental breakdown, Deskovic was in the fetal position under the table sobbing.
Aside from Deskovic’s forced confession the police began to analyze the biological evidence on the victim according to the innocence project report “The victim was found naked and her autopsy revealed genital trauma. Semen was identified on the vaginal swabs from her rape kit”. Even though there was semen present at the scene and inside of the victim there were none on her clothes. The police tested the semen found on the scene and told Deskovic that if the semen was not a match he would be cleared as a suspect, however the police lied to Deskovic. The DNA test came back negative for a match between the semen found on the scene and Deskovic, however after these findings became known the police did not disregard him as a suspect. Instead the police changed the narrative of the events of the crime. The narrative shifted from the rape and murder happening consecutively to the rape never happening at all. The state argued that the victim had consensual sex which was the source of the semen however Deskovic murdered the victim in a fit of jealous rage.
Despite the biological evidence exonerating Deskovic, Deskovic was found guilty of first-degree rape and second-degree murder in January 1991. This conviction however lacks overall merit due to the change in narrative by the state. After the analysis of DNA, the state changed their interpretation of what happened during the crime. The new interpretation stated that the victim was never raped, the state maintained that she had consensual sex prior to the murder and Deskovic murdered her in a fit of jealous rage. However even though the state maintains that the victim was never raped Deskovic was convicted by a jury of first-degree rape.
Deskovic was convicted in January of 1991 and remained in jail until September 20, 2006. Deskovic’s case was overseen by the innocence project. With the evolution in DNA analysis and the creation of New York States DNA databank of convicted felons the victims original rape kit was tested again with this newly evolved technology. When tested the DNA not only exonerated Deskovic but also matched with a man named Steven Cunningham. According to the innocence project report Steven Cunningham was a convicted murderer in prison for strangling his girlfriend’s sister. With this exoneration by DNA evidence Deskovic was released from prison on September 20th, 2006. According to the innocence project report Deskovic’s indictment was dismissed on November 2nd, 2006 where he was deemed innocent after serving 16 years of his 15-life sentence. The innocence project also stated that Steven Cunningham confessed to the crime that Deskovic served 16 years of his life for.
This case allows for a lot of insight as to how our justice system has changed just over the past few decades. Following this case through all of its steps you can see that every level of the justice system has started to change. Looking specifically at each step, firstly the investigative process has changed dramatically over the past few decades. Especially in recent years police have been being held more accountable to their actions as it pertains to not only the physical aspect of the job but also how they present their findings in court. Police are being held more accountable also with the interpersonal aspect of people and how it pertains to getting confessions and dealing with how confessions come to fruition weather their forced confessions or not and this is in part due to the evolution in understanding the psychology of people and how they deal with interrogation and stressful situations. The next step would be the forensic side forensics has become so much more applicable to every investigation being done today. Not only has forensic analysis become more precise but more specifically DNA analysis has made massive strides in the past few decades as it pertains to homicide and rape investigations. Not only has the accuracy of DNA analysis evolved but the collection of DNA in criminal databases. This collection of DNA in states like New York allow for the quick arrest and conviction of repeat offending criminals.
This is one of the many examples of how the justice system on all levels has changed in order to prevent false convictions. These changes ensure that the courts can maintained the assertation that beyond a reasonable doubt the person who is being convicted of a crime is definitively the person who has committed the crime.