A vastly accepted principle of the justice system is that bringing the guilty perpetrators to justice. Consequently, the danger of a guilty person remaining free dominated public attention (Bjerk & Helland, 2018). However, the justice system has been flawed for robbing of life experiences and freedom of wrongfully convicted individuals (Gould & Leo, 2010). The flaws in the justice system have attracted public opinion and research interest. Empirical interest in wrongful convictions dates back to research work by Borchard (1932). The introduction of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) testing technology in the justice system brought to light the flaws in the system by revealing the innocence of convicts in prison with some serving death or life sentences (Bjerk & Helland, 2018). Wrongful convictions occur when factually innocent persons are convicted of crimes; a miscarriage in the justice system. The handful convictions of innocent persons challenges the efficacy of the US justice system.
The National Registry of Exonerations (2019) records 2439 exonerations in the US between 1989 and 2019, equivalent to more than 21290 years lost by the innocent convicts. While non-DNA exonerations amounted to 1895, DNA exonerations accounted for 484 cases. Homicide cases are the leading cases of exonerations which amounted to 945 cases, sexual assault, 322 cases, child sex abuse; 266 cases and other 846 cases. The increasing prevalence of exonerations in the US has attracted both public, academia and policy interest as people push for an infallible justice system. While recent strand of literature has been case studies (qualitative research), another strand of literature has focused on regression analysis of multiple cases (quantitative research).
Another line of research has focused on the causes of wrongful convictions. Smith & Hattery (2011) and the consequences of wrongful convictions (Zalman et al., 2012). Smith & Hattery (2011)) identified false or coerced confessions; class and race; careless forensic work; mistaken eyewitness testimony; unethical police and prosecutor misconduct; insufficient defense counsel; and juror bias as the causes of wrongful convictions.
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Gould & Leo (2010) observes that wrongful convictions yield psychological traumas, irreversible physical injuries (knife stabs, sexual assault, incarcerated), post-traumatic stress disorder, missed opportunities, severed family ties as well as undermining the public trust in the legitimacy of the justice system. Smith and Hattery (2011) notes that wrongful convictions have monetary implication to the economy and estimates $42 million in lost wages, 7 million lost work hours and $87 Million expenditure on 250 exonerees by 201.
Researchers have constructed conceptual frameworks on wrongful convictions and exonerations with the dominant construct being system errors and errors of impunity. Forst (2004) models basis of wrongful convictions and exonerations on two constructs; legal innocence or factual innocence. The popular faced “innocent until proven guilty” is the foundation of legal innocence. A convict whose trial was marred with errors due to violations of rules of evidence or poor jury instructions could claim legal innocence. Factual innocence is established where a defendant was convicted for a crime he/she didn’t commit or didn’t play any remote role. Accordingly, Forst (2004) notes that the difference in the two constructs as errors of impunity and errors of due processes. Failure of the justice system to acquit factually guilty defendant or apprehend perpetrator results in errors of impunity while violations of factually innocent defendants’ rights manifest from errors of due process. Modeling the causal factors of wrongful convictions, Colvin (2009) identifies that errors that result in wrongful convictions occur at two stages; investigative stage and adjudicative stage. According to Colvin (2009) post investigations wrongful accusations by law enforcement, forensic scientists, mistaken eyewitnesses result to investigative errors while errors by adjudicative process occur when the adjudicative framework….....