Contemporary Perspectives on Wrongful Conviction: An Introduction to the 2016 Innocence Network Conference, San Antonio, Texas

 In Symposium

Innocent people have been convicted of crimes they did not commit
throughout history. The exact number of wrongful convictions is
unknowable. In 2014, however, the National Academy of Sciences
(“NAS”) released a study of the cases of criminal defendants who were
convicted and sentenced to death and concluded that 4.1% were
wrongfully convicted. The researchers explained that “this is a
conservative estimate of the proportion of false conviction among death
sentences in the United States.” According to the U.S. Department of
Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1,561,500 adults were incarcerated
in federal prisons, state prisons, and county jails in 2014, with an
additional 4,708,100 adults under community supervision programs such
as probation and parole. If we apply the NAS conservative estimate to just those who are incarcerated, there are more than 90,000 people
wrongfully convicted and imprisoned in the United States.

Legal scholars began to study the phenomenon of wrongful
convictions in the early twentieth century. In 1913, Edwin Borchard
published a report of European approaches to righting the wrongs of
erroneous convictions, the first study of wrongful convictions in the
modern era. Twenty years later, Borchard published a monograph
documenting sixty-five cases in which innocent persons had been
convicted, asserting that the causes included “eyewitness testimony,
false confessions, faulty circumstantial evidence, and prosecutorial
excesses.” Additional studies were published occasionally over the next
fifty years, but it was not until the late 1980s when scholars began to
conceive of convicting the innocent as a distinct field of academic
study. In 1987, Hugo Bedau and Michael Radelet published the first
scholarship that systematically analyzed the causes of wrongful
convictions. Over the last quarter century, this field has yielded
numerous studies with the aims of exposing the reality and harm of
wrongful convictions, assessing their common causes, and proposing
reforms to address them. This Symposium continues that effort.

View Symposium PDF

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