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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 causes has emerged – from mistakes to misconduct to factors of race and class.

Countless cases
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.


Common Causes
Here you will find further information about seven of the most common causes of wrongful convictions:



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.

To stop these wrongful convictions from continuing, we must fix the criminal justice system. Click here to learn about Innocence Commissions, a reform that can help identify and address the fundamental flaws in the criminal justice system that lead to wrongful convictions.


The chart below represents contributing causes confirmed through Innocence Project research. Actual numbers may be higher, and other causes of wrongful convictions include government misconduct and bad lawyering.

 

Click for previous examination of cases based on other criteria.