Skip to main content

Wrongful Convictions: Introduction: Introduction

Welcome

This LibGuide can be used to help you learn more about wrongful convictions and research the topic more effectively. Enjoy!

Disclaimer

This guide has been created by Ayana Shiggs  in support of Professor Diamond's Advanced Legal Research class for Fall 2017. The contents of this guide should not be taken as legal advice or as the work product of Mizzou Law librarians.

Overview

This research guide is intended for use by new attorneys and law students who are interested in wrongful convictions and the legal research that surrounds this topic. This guide will include secondary sources (journals and blogs), a breakdown of the leading causes of wrongful convictions, and current awareness tools that will aid in providing information about what is currently happening in the wrongful convictions field. 

In recent years, wrongful convictions have become a hot topic as many men and women are being exonerated for crimes they were wrongfully convicted of many years ago. With the help of the Innocence Clinic, these men and women are being given the opportunity to receive a second chance as the justice system has already failed them once. The Innocence Clinic represents clients seeking post-conviction DNA testing to prove their innocence. Moreover, they consult on a number of cases on appeal in which the defendant is represented by primary counsel and they provide information and background on DNA testing litigation. And because of their efforts as of 2017, there are 1,900 defendants on the National Registry of Exonerations.

Even though conversations about wrongful convictions have just recently become a hot topic, the information regarding this topic is constantly being updated as clinics such as the Innocence Clinic are cultivating new ways that can help those who have been wrongfully convicted. This Library Guide can be used as a source that provides a reader with the background knowledge that is needed to understand this topic as a whole. While there are many online services that can be used to gather pertinent information about this topic, the best by far is Google. This is because Google can provide an interested law student or new attorney with the relevant information that is needed such as recent journal articles that analyze the topic, current blogs that highlight a specific area within wrongful convictions, and important updates about those who have been wrongfully convicted.

Introductory Questions

What does Wrongfully Convicted Mean?

Persons who are in fact innocent but have been wrongly convicted by a jury or other court of law.

What are the Leading Causes of Wrongful Convictions?

  1. Mistaken Eyewitness Identification: When a victim chooses the wrong suspect out of a photo lineup.

  2. False Confessions: When an individual alleges that they committed a crime that they did not commit and are charged with the crime. 

  3. Unreliable Forensic Science: When DNA evidence is not tested correctly and implicates an innocent person.

  4. Jailhouse Snitches: Informants for law enforcement who trade their testimony for a lesser sentence.  

  5. Prosecutorial Misconduct: When a prosecutor does not hand over all the evidence, which could determine that the person on trial is actually innocent.

  6. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel: When defense attorneys do not advocate for their clients efficiently. 

Recommendations & Solutions?

  1. Cautionary Instructions: Person administering the identification line up tells the witness, "This lineup may include that the perpetrator may or may not be included in the procedure and that the investigation will continue regardless of whether or not the witness identifies a suspect in the procedure". 
  2. Effective Use of Fillers: All the individuals who are participating in the lineup should match the description that the witness relayed to the police, none should obviously stand out. 
  3. Documentation: Officer who is administering the lineup should record the witnesses level of confidence .
  4. Double-Blind Administration: The person who administers the lineup should not know the identity of the suspect.
  5. Sequential Presentation: Line up members should be presented to the victim at one time. 

Why Do Innocent People Confess? 

  • Innocent people are more likely to waive their right to counsel at the beginning of the interrogation, for fear of looking guilty, or because they feel they have nothing to hide.
  • Controlled experiments have proven that the use of false evidence against a suspect in an interrogation, though a common and effective interrogation technique, increases the risk that innocent people confess to acts they did not commit.
  • Research has indicated that certain types of suspects are also more susceptible to police pressure and thus more likely to falsely confess to crimes they did not commit.