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Issues: Causes of Wrongful Convictions



of wrongful conviction cases involve the incorrect use of forensic science


of the cases handled involve mistaken identification by eyewitnesses, including when people of different races identify each other


of the people helped by the Innocence Project, who have been released or proven innocent, are Black and/or Latinx

Common Issues Amongst Wrongful Convictions

False Misidentification

When it comes to eyewitnesses identifying criminals, memory plays a big role. But here's the thing, memory is super flexible. When witnesses face intense pressure, suggestive police practices, or the passage of time, it becomes harder for them to accurately remember all the details of what they saw. Stress, trauma, and gaps in time can really mess with how well they recognize and identify things from their memory.

False Confessions

Police misconduct can contribute to false confessions, but other factors like fear, coercion, and vulnerability can also lead to admitting to a crime one didn't commit. False confessions occur in over 30% of convictions later proven by DNA evidence. Certain groups, such as youth, those with mental health issues, and individuals under the influence, are more susceptible to suggestion and over-represented in false confession data.

Police and Prosecutorial Misconduct

Numerous instances of wrongful convictions can be attributed to constitutional violations committed by the investigating police officers and/or prosecutors involved. The investigation process and subsequent trial can be susceptible to a wide range of misconduct. Factors such as corruption and failure to adhere to proper procedures significantly contribute to the wrongful conviction of innocent individuals.

Faulty forensics 

Scientific advancements have played a role in both supporting convictions and revealing flaws in the criminal justice system. Some practices once considered scientifically sound have been debunked, leading to wrongful convictions. These "junk science" methods have had a significant impact on the reliability of evidence in court.

Ineffective Lawyers

The Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to legal counsel for criminal defendants. To ensure this right is meaningful, lawyers must meet a minimum standard of competence. While defendants are not entitled to the best representation, they are entitled to representation that meets an objective standard of reasonableness. Inadequate legal defense can take various forms, ranging from severe cases where lawyers miss court dates or make serious mistakes, to more subtle cases where innocent errors can impact a client's case. According to the National Registry of Exonerations, inadequate legal defense has been a contributing factor in approximately 20% of wrongful conviction cases.
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