Almost everything we know about false convictions is based on exonerations in rape and murder cases, which together account for only 2% of felony convictions. Within that important but limited sphere we have learned a lot in the past 30 years; outside it, our ignorance is nearly complete. This review describes what we now know about convicting the innocent: estimates of the rate of false convictions among death sentences; common causes of false conviction for rape or murder; demographic and procedural predictors of such errors. It also explores some of the types of false convictions that almost never come to light—innocent defendants who plead guilty rather than go to trial, who receive comparatively light sentences, who are convicted of crimes that did not occur (as opposed to crimes committed by other people), who are sentenced in juvenile court—in fact, almost all innocent defendants who are convicted of any crimes other than rape or murder. Judging from what we can piece together, the vast majority of false convictions fall in these categories. They are commonplace events, inconspicuous mistakes in ordinary criminal investigations that never get anything close to the level of attention that sometimes leads to exoneration.
"Convicting the Innocent"
Areas of Interest
Annual Review of Law and Social Science