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Liberty and (In)Justice for All: An Overview of Wrongful Convictions in the United States: Introduction

About the Author

Cat Cojocaru is a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism and also holds a Bachelor's degree in Political Science from the University of Missouri. She is a J.D. candidate at the University of Missouri School of Law for May 2019. Cat currently serves as vice president of MU Law's Lambda Legal Society, program coordinator for the American Constitution Society at Mizzou Law, and is a member of the Criminal Law Association executive board.

After law school, Cat hopes to work in criminal prosecution.

This guide has been created by 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.

Subject Introduction

This guide provides an overview of the reasons wrongful convictions occur in the United States and of the communities impacted by wrongful convictions. This guide also provides resources and information about best practices law enforcement officers and prosecutors can use to decrease or eliminate wrongful convictions in their jurisdictions. 

The goals of this guide are twofold - first, to educate law students about the prevalence of wrongful convictions in American society, and aid them in debunking the common myths that surround the criminal justice system. The secondary goal is to offer solutions to attorneys already practicing in the field of criminal justice, so they can identify problems in their own offices and effectively enforce the law while promoting justice and equity in their day-to-day work.

This guide also highlights the recent public interest in true crime via podcasts, television shows, and other multimedia, and advocates for raising awareness about the injustices of the criminal system among all U.S. citizens.

Research Strategy

Wrongful convictions occur in the United States for a variety of reasons, so it is most helpful to start researching with tools that will give researchers a good overview of the various factors that contribute to these convictions. I would suggest startingThe Innocent Man, or Picking Cotton, to give researchers a firsthand account of cases that resulted in a wrongful conviction. After getting a narrativized view of wrongful convictions, then I would recommend researchers consult Professor Rodney Uphoff's journal article, "Convicting the Innocent," which gives a much more in-depth view of why innocent people get convicted. Then, I would suggest that researchers look for more current articles on the subject, like Jed Rakoff's "Why Innocent People Plead Guilty." 

As the study of wrongful convictions is much more policy-based and relies on data, traditional research methods like using WestLaw would not prove very fruitful. I would recommend starting with an overview of the subject with materials like suggested above, and then diving deeper with secondary materials that parse out the mechanisms behind different kinds of wrongful convictions, as are suggested in the next tab.