Officials’ Estimates of the Incidence of ‘Actual Innocence’ Convictions

By Angie Kiger / Brad Smith / Marvin Zalman / Justice Quarterly, on 1 January 2008

Evidence indicates that the conviction and imprisonment of factually innocent persons occur with some regularity. Most research focuses on causes, but the incidence of wrongful convictions is an important scientific and policy issue, especially as no official body gathers data on miscarriages of justice. Two methods are available for discovering the incidence of wrongful conviction: (1) enumerating specific cases and (2) having criminal justice experts estimate its incidence. Counts or catalogues of wrongful conviction necessarily undercount its incidence and are subject to accuracy challenges. We surveyed Michigan criminal justice officials, replicating a recent Ohio survey, to obtain an expert estimate of the incidence of wrongful conviction. All groups combined estimated that wrongful convictions occurred at a rate of less than 1/2 percent in their own jurisdiction and at a rate of 1-3 percent in the United States. Defense lawyers estimate higher rates of wrongful conviction than judges, who estimate higher rates than police officials and prosecutors. These differences may be explained by professional socialization. An overall wrongful conviction estimate of 1/2 percent extrapolates to about 5,000 wrongful felony convictions and the imprisonment of more than 2,000 innocent persons in the United States every year.

  • Document type Article
  • Countries list United States
  • Themes list Innocence,