Researchers examined 873 wrongful convictions and found that
perjury or false accusations were responsible for more than half.
New report offers insight into what leads to miscarriages of
False accusations, official misconduct, and mistaken eyewitness
identity are the primary reasons behind hundreds of wrongful
convictions nationwide over the past 23 years, legal researchers
conclude in a new report.
The report, released Sunday, is part of a database compiled by
the University of Michigan and Northwestern University law schools
that for the first time tries to pinpoint the problem of flawed
judicial outcomes in state and federal courts.
Researchers identified 873 wrongful convictions between January
1989 and March 2012; 46 percent of the cases examined were
homicides, 35 percent were sexual assaults, and the remainder were
other crimes. Half involved African-Americans, 38 percent whites,
and 11 percent Latinos. The report concluded that perjury or false
accusations were responsible for just over half of the failures,
followed by mistaken eyewitness identification, official misconduct,
false or misleading evidence, or false confession.
The number is tiny compared with the hundreds of millions of
criminal cases handled over the same period, says Samuel Gross, a
University of Michigan law professor and lead author. The figure is
based on formal decisions by courts or executive officers; the
majority of the wrongful convictions were cleared without the use of
"These are the ones we know about. They don't give us any direct
measure of how common false convictions are across the system," Mr.
Gross says. "They just give us a sense of the ones that have come to
Stanley Fisher, a criminal law professor at Boston University who
is not affiliated with the report, says the effort is part of a
larger trend over the past two decades called the "Innocence
Revolution." Breakthroughs in the use of DNA evidence and greater
awareness of past abuses had prompted reforms in police and court
procedures, such as videotaping confessions from crime suspects, he
The trend has been fueled not only by DNA testing, but also by
social science research that has questioned the reliability of long-
standing police techniques such as how suspects in a crime are lined
up against a wall and picked out by an eyewitness, or how
photographs are shown to witnesses. …