Causes of Wrongful Convictions



Note: Nearly half of the cases included more than one reason for a wrongful conviction. Therefore the total of the cases in the chart equals more than 86.

In 2001, the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern Law School analyzed the cases of 86 death row exonerees. They found a number of reasons why innocent people are wrongly convicted in capital cases. The reasons included:

eyewitness error - from confusion or faulty memory.
government misconduct - by both the police and the prosecution
junk science - mishandled evidence or use of unqualified "experts"
snitch testimony - often given in exchange for a reduction in sentence
false confessions - resulting from mental illness or retardation, as well as from police torture
other - hearsay, questionable circumstantial evidence, etc.

Read the Full Report
Attachment A
Attachment B
Attachment C

For more information about the reasons for wrongful convictions, see:

General:

Convicting the Innocent: Aberration or Systemic Problem? by Rodney Uphoff, University of Missouri School of Law

"Exonerations in the United States, 1989 through 2003," by Samuel Gross, et al., Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Vol. 95, No. 2, 2005

Government Misconduct:

Government Misconduct by the Innocence Project
Police Misconduct by the Center on Wrongful Convictions

Snitch Testimony:

The Snitch System by the Center on Wrongful Convictions

Other:

Bad Lawyering by the Innocence Project

Eyewitness Error:

Eyewitness Misidentification by the Innocence Project
Erroneous Eyewitness I.D. by the Center on Wrongful Convictions

Junk Science:

Forensic Science Misconduct by the Innocence Project
Unreliable and Limited Science by the Innocence Project
Informants/Snitches by the Innocence Project

False Confessions:

False Confessions by the Innocence Project
False Confessions by the Center on Wrongful Convictions

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