IN THE UNITED STATES
C. RONALD HUFF
The U.S. experience with the problem of wrongful conviction extends throughout the nation's history, of course, and predates the formation of the United States as an independent nation. As citizens of a British colony, the colonists were often subjected to secret accusations without the right to question their accusers and were generally denied the types of due process rights that U.S. citizens have taken for granted since the development of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Although status differences were generally less important in the colonies than was the case in England, the American colonies were certainly not egalitarian, and some regions (especially Virginia) were quite conscious of distinctions in socioeconomic class (Whitman, 2003). This fact, along with the inferior social status assigned to blacks, suggests that class and race discrimination influenced decisions regarding who was guilty and how they should be punished. Sadly, such discrimination continues to occur today despite important social and legal reforms, and such discrimination is evident in many cases of wrongful conviction in the United States.
This chapter is not, however, the place in which to dwell on the colonial roots of wrongful conviction, but rather to discuss the contemporary American experience and the need for cross-national, comparative research and policy discussions. As noted elsewhere (Huff, 2002), scholars, jurists, journalists, and activists have documented and analyzed cases of wrongful conviction since Borchard's (1932) pioneering work more than seven decades ago. For more than half a century, the documentation and analyses focused