Mary Catlin et Allison D. Redlich
The wrongful conviction of innocent individuals is a growing problem for those unjustly convicted and the integrity of our legal system, with exonerees often struggling post-exoneration. Yet, too little is known about the long-term impact of wrongful convictions on those unjustly convicted. Thus, we investigated the effect of wrongful conviction on mortality and lifespan—that is, we tested for the possibility of an “innocence mortality tax.” We found that more exonerees have passed than expected when compared to U.S. death rates, and that exonerees died 13.24 years earlier than expected, given their age, gender, race/ethnicity, and incarceration length. Finally, those exonerees whose cases involved a false confession or mistaken eyewitness identification died significantly sooner than their counterparts. Our results highlight the need for researchers, practitioners, and policymakers to continue to find ways to mitigate the harm done to innocent individuals unjustly convicted.
The Canadian Registry of Wrongful Convictions www.wrongfulconviction.ca, like similar registries in the United States and the United Kingdom, was designed to facilitate research on patterns and trends in wrongful convictions. As of its launch in February 2023, 15 of 83 remedied wrongful convictions or 17% were the result of guilty pleas by the accused. Forty percent of the guilty plea wrongful convictions were entered by women. Most of these involved theflawed expert testimony of Charles Smith about the cause of baby deaths. The majority of the 15 remedied guilty plea wrongful convictions were for imagined crimes that did not happen. Almost half (7 of 15) of Canada’s false guilty pleas were taken from racialized people including three Indigenous men, one Black and Indigenous man, another Black man and a Brown man who had recently immigrated from India. Two of the fifteen false guilty pleas were taken from accused persons who had diagnosed with mental health and cognitive challenges. With the exclusion of one false guilty plea to a mandatory murder sentence of life imprisonment and ineligibility for parole for 10 years, the average sentence in the remaining 14 cases was 10 months. This is evidence of “lop-sided” plea deals producing lenient sentences. In two cases, the accused who pled guilty received sentences of time already served in pre-trial custody. A number of strategies to prevent false guilty pleas including abolition of mandatory sentences and better charge and pre-trial detention screening are examined. Nevertheless,it is argued that false guilty pleas are inevitable in high volume criminal justice systems that recognize a guilty plea as a reason to mitigate sentences. This article also raises concerns that both Canada’s appeal courts and its proposed Miscarriage of Justice Review Commission are not well suited to remedying inevitable false guilty pleas.
Noah Barr et Glinda Cooper
Flawed eyewitness testimony, faulty forensics, and police misconduct are common factors that may contribute to wrongful conviction. However, what brings someone over the threshold of suspicion where these factors are used to build the case against them? To answer that question, we built upon the limited number of previous studies examining how someone becomes a suspect in serious crimes (e.g., murder, rape). This exploratory study utilized Innocence Project materials pertaining to 232 exonerated clients and 75 individuals for whom post-conviction DNA testing was found to be an “inclusion” (i.e., supportive of the prosecution’s theory of guilt). Based on case files, we coded pathways to becoming a suspect. These pathways included tips, matched description, previous law enforcement encounters, physical evidence, and other scenarios; more than one pathway could be used for each individual. While several pathways were found to be similar in both groups, differences were seen in pathways related to physical evidence, officers putting individuals under duress during questioning, and proximity to the crime. This exploratory analysis provides a basis for designing future hypothesis-based research to further examine the observed associations and provide further insights into the investigative processes that can lead to wrongful convictions.
Sometimes the Snitch Recants: A Closer Look at the Use of Jailhouse Informants in DNA Exoneration Cases
Wendy Pamela Heath, Joshua Robert Stein, Sneha Singh et Da'Naia Lynnette Holden
The purpose of this study is to investigate further the role of jailhouse informants in U.S. DNA exoneration cases. Thus, for the first 375 DNA exoneration cases compiled by the Innocence Project (“IP”), we reviewed the IP information relevant to jailhouse informant testimony. We supplemented the information from the IP with that from the National Registry of Exonerations (“NRE”) and the Convicting the Innocent (“CTI”) databases.We found that 15% of these DNA exoneration cases included jailhouse informant testimony, with White people more likely than Black people to have an informant involved in their case. There was also a greater tendency for defendants incriminated by informants to be given the death penalty. In 13% of the cases, the only evidence supporting a conviction was the word of the jailhouse informant. We also found that in 24% of cases which had at least one jailhouse informant, the informant recanted. This has thus led to an effort in some jurisdictions for reform regardinginformant testimony. While states should continue to consider adopting procedures to curb the reliance on unreliable informants, we recommend that any reform regarding the use of informants should include a consideration of recanting informants.
For three decades, the innocence movement has focused on proving “factual innocence” with DNA evidence. Substance. But as Professor Medwed details, far more people are wrongly convicted than those who can rely on exculpatory DNA evidence. DNA has been crucial to exposing the many causes of wrongful convictions: faulty forensic evidence, police and prosecutor misconduct, mistaken eyewitnesses, unreliable informants, false confessions, and racism. DNA opens the doors to recognizing these other causes of wrongful convictions. But what next?
Barred walks us through the procedural bars and barriers at each step a wrongly convicted person takes toward freedom. As Medwed describes it, “the rule regime is stacked against the innocent, contrary to the popular belief that the postconviction process is full of escape hatches from the prison cell, those imaginary ‘technicalities’ that let people loose…. You can have evidence of innocence – and no one willing to hear it.”
Through the pages of Barred, Medwed turns us to procedure for the next stage of innocence work. If it is procedure that creates the bars, then it is those bars we must bend to free innocent people.