STUDIES: Causes of Wrongful Convictions in Pennsylvania

A recent report from the Pennsylvania Advisory Committee on Wrongful Convictions called for serious reforms in the state's criminal justice system.  The committee, which was instructed to identify the most common causes of wrongful convictions (some of which were capital cases) and any current laws and procedures implicated in each type of causation, found that, "under [the current] institutional structure, defendants have been punished for crimes they did not commit. Compounding these concerns, biological evidence is available in only a small number of cases involving violent crimes. There is every reason to believe that mistaken identifications, false confessions, inadequate legal representation, and other factors underlying wrongful convictions occur with comparable regularity in criminal cases where DNA is absent."  The committee determined the most common causes of wrongful convictions to be: “mistaken eyewitness identifications; false confessions; perjurious informant testimony; inaccurate scientific evidence; prosecutorial and defense lawyer misconduct; and inadequate funding for defense services," and made several proposals that are intended to address each cause.  The report concludes, "The system cannot routinely accept the conviction of an innocent person without being challenged to consider measures to reduce the likelihood of error and grant redress to victims of these errors... [Exonerations] represent tragedy not only for the person whose life is irreparably damaged by incarceration for a crime he did not commit, but also for the victim since each wrongful conviction also represents the failure to convict the true perpetrator."  Read full report.

("Report of the Advisory Committee on Wrongful Convictions," Joint State Government Commission, September 2011; posted Oct. 21, 2011). See Innocence and Studies.