The Causes of Wrongful Conviction
As the pace of DNA exonerations has grown across the country in recent years, wrongful convictions have revealed disturbing fissures and trends in our criminal justice system. Together, these cases show us how the criminal justice system is broken – and how urgently it needs to be fixed.
We should learn from the system’s failures. In each case where DNA has proven innocence beyond doubt, an overlapping array of contributing factors has emerged – from mistakes to misconduct to factors of race and class.
Those exonerated by DNA testing aren’t the only people who have been wrongfully convicted in recent decades. For every case that involves DNA, there are hundreds that do not.
Only a fraction of criminal cases involve biological evidence that can be subjected to DNA testing, and even when such evidence exists, it is often lost or destroyed after a conviction. Since they don’t have access to a definitive test like DNA, many wrongfully convicted people have a slim chance of ever proving their innocence.
These factors are not the only causes of wrongful conviction. Each case is unique and many include a combination of the above issues. Review our case profiles to learn how the common causes of wrongful convictions have affected real cases and how these injustices could have been prevented.
Contributing causes confirmed through Innocence Project research. Actual numbers may be higher, and other contributing factors to wrongful convictions include government misconduct and bad lawyering.