- Educational Curricula
- Executions Database
- Law Review
- New Voices
- Public Opinion
- Related Web Sites
- State by State Database
- State Information
- Student Resources
- Testimony, Resolutions, Statements & Speeches
- Weekly Newsletter
- Death Penalty Quiz
- More Resources
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.
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
The Snitch System by the Center on Wrongful Convictions
Bad Lawyering by the Innocence Project
Return to Innocence