Wrongful Convictions Research Essay

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When someone who is truly innocent is given a criminal sentence, it is called a wrongful conviction. This doesn't refer to flaws in the judicial system, but rather to factual innocence. A person who is wrongfully convicted is one who was not at all engaged in the crime for which they were charged. DNA exoneration cases have demonstrated that wrongful convictions are not uncommon, but that they can be prevented by identifying and correcting systematic flaws. Misidentification, poor forensic science, false and incriminating confession statements, and snitches are the main contributors to erroneous verdicts. The paper delves deeply into these reasons.

Eye witness misidentification

This was a leading cause of wrongful convictions prior to the DNA exoneration cases in the U.S accounting for 75% convictions of innocent persons (Campbell & Denov, 2016). Over 40% of these eye witness misidentifications involved were cross racial. Studies reveal that human beings are unable to recognize faces of people from a different race other than that of their own. The public and courts have immense faith in testimonial proof from a person who pinpoints the perpetrator. They view the evidence as most reliable. It is no wonder that the DNA exoneration has revealed this method of evidence as least reliable of the evidences available. In New York for instance, 28 DNA –proven convictions, 14 had been directly caused by witness misidentification (Leverick & Chalmers, 2014).

There are various perpetual, cognitive and psychological factors which can impact the recall of the crime by the victim. This includes such things as the length of time the victim saw the perpetrator; fear, lighting conditions, trauma, and weapon presence of weapons. All these have a contribution to the victim’s unreliability. Also, a glimpse view of the suspect under conditions that are stressful may turn out to be less unreliable than when viewed for a longer time. It however does not mean a longer view period by the witness warrants any accuracy.

The psychological ‘schema’ concept assists in explaining this occurrence. Schema is a concept that explains the mental framework of everyone that each one of us has a specific theme when organizing social information. When a person is confronted by a situation where for instance there lacks clarity, the brain tends to fill in the missing gaps. This explains how these witnesses only recall sketchy details of the physical appearances of the perpetrators. These victims are usually not lying; instead, they find it hard distinguishing what they actually recall from the details that are missing provided by their schema.

Improper or invalidated forensic science

This accounted for nearly 50 percent of the wrongful convictions before being overturned later by DNA testing (Campbell & Denov, 2016). As we are already acquainted, DNA testing underwent extensive research of science in leading centers of academics, other forensic techniques like comparison of bite marks, hair microscopy, comparison of shoe print and fire arm tool mark examination- have not been put under rigorous evaluation of science (Leverick & Chalmers, 2014). Also, forensic techniques that are usually properly validated like cell serology (blood typing) have been sometimes conducted in an improper way or inaccurately conveyed in testimonies during a trial. In some instances, the forensic scientists engage in misconduct (Kassin, Dror & Kukucka, 2013).

The misconduct may arise from presenting reports that do not match those of other forensic scientist in the same fields. They may also lack certification in that field as a result of lack of appropriate education in the field. This may result in faulty analysis of DNA material presented to them.

Incriminating statements and false confession

This has led to approximately 25 percent of wrongful conviction cases. About 35 percent of these false confessions and admission cases, the offenders were 18 years of age or younger or disabled. There were nineteen out of 250 of the DNA exonerates who had pled guilty to criminal offences they had not done. The innocence projects have been encouraging police departments to do a recording of all custodial interrogations electronically so that they provide accurate recordings of proceeding and devoid of coercions. In the United States, over 500 jurisdictions have adopted policies to have interrogations recorded. Some jurisdictions have adopted the policies in taping homicide interrogation cases; the jurisdictions include Maine, Columbia district and New Mexico.


19 percent of the cases of wrongful convictions have been under snitching (Leverick & Chalmers, 2014). Of the wrongful convictions as a result of snitch testimony, 15 percent were overturned later after DNA testing. Whenever the testimony of a snitch is used, judges are recommended by The Innocence Projects to instruct the jury that the testimony of snitches can be unreliable because it is offered for special treatment, dropping of charges or in return for deals (Campbell & Denov, 2016)..

It is an unreliable method to gather evidence and thus rarely utilized by judges. However it is used in scenarios where it is the only method available to acquire justice for a victim. It is usually flawed as the snitches have to try their level best to free themselves or get a special treatment.

Lowering Cases of Wrongful Convictions

Wrongful convictions can be lowered by taking a close look at their causes and developing solutions from there. For instance, an improvement in witness identification to reduce cases of misidentifications can be very vital. To reduce these misidentifications, some reforms need to be done (Wise, Sartori, Magnussen & Safer, 2014). They include:

Use of photo arrays and sequential lineups

Using similar persons in lineups of appearance

Assuring the victim that the investigation will not stop whether the victim goes through identification or not (Wise, Sartori, Magnussen & Safer, 2014).

Carrying out video recording of the whole identification process

Application of the procedure of double blind identification

Allowing the witnesses to make witness statements that are confidential about their certainty level of the identification

Doing away with show-ups

Making it known to the witnesses that the perpetrators may not be in the photo array or lineup

About the forensics, there should be Second Look staff to re-examine those previous expert testimonies (Kassin, Dror & Kukucka, 2013). These staff should check whether the laboratory experts were:


Certified properly to carryout laboratory testing

Educated in a special way in the subject matters that they gave their opinion testimony

All the employees in the laboratory were certified properly

If ever flagged in any other cases where there was issues of misconduct

The testimony issued by the expert should be paid particular attention into. The unit staff should be able to probe whether the expert (Kassin, Dror & Kukucka, 2013):

Followed the right protocols of the Lab

Adhered to or deviated from other experts view of the same issue in the field

Overstated the findings statistically

Carried out a sound research

Adhered to laid down forensic principles and methodology

Issued testimony about the criticized matter as a science junk, for example, microscopic analysis of the hair, analysis of bite marks, analysis of the finger prints based on available matching patterns; etcetera

Preventing these cases before they occur can only be possible at the police departments. The prosecutor may insist that the police officer records interrogations without pausing from the beginning to the end (Wise, Sartori, Magnussen & Safer, 2014). This recordings can be compared to confessions and admissions presented during court proceedings. Any deviations can be used by the judge to make a ruling on the type of evidence used.


Campbell, K. M., & Denov, M, (2016). Wrongful Convictions

Kassin, S. M., Dror, I. E., & Kukucka, J. (2013). The Forensic Confirmation Bias: Problems, Perspective, and Proposed Solutions. Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, 2(1), 42-52.

Leverick, F., & Chalmers, J. (2014). Causes of Wrongful Conviction

Wise, R.A., Sartori , G., Magnussen, S., & Safer, M. A. (2014). An Examination of the Causes and Solutions to Eye Witness Error. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 5.

July 15, 2023

Law Science Life

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Criminal Justice DNA Problems

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