In the United States, the goal of the justice system is to err on the side of keeping people out of jail. It is supposed to protect the innocent. This general sentiment can be summed up by the following quote:
“Better that ten guilty persons escape, than that one innocent suffer.”
This is why proof of a crime needs to be shown beyond a reasonable doubt. If there is any reason to think that the person has not committed the crime, they should not be convicted. This sometimes leads to issues in the court of public opinion, where the general public will believe that the person is guilty. But the justice system needs to be much more strict and uphold this high standard.
False convictions still happen
Unfortunately, even with this goal, it is possible for false convictions to occur. Some estimates claim that around 1% of all people who are incarcerated in the United States are actually innocent. This total number changes yearly, but could be around 20,000 people.
There are many different reasons for this. Witness testimony has often been cited in false convictions, especially when they are later overturned by DNA evidence. Witnesses often get it wrong, even accidentally. There are also reported cases where people have intentionally pled guilty to crimes that they didn’t commit. This sometimes happens if they have been manipulated by police officers during an interrogation, a tactic often used with juvenile offenders.
As you can see, simply being innocent does not mean that you face no risk of going to jail. If you are facing criminal accusations, you need to take them very seriously and understand all of the defense options you have to work against this potential outcome.