How many is too many?
Over the past quarter century in the United States, there have been more than 300 post-conviction DNA exonerations, according to the Innocence Project, and the National Registry of Exonerations has identified over 1,600 exonerations since 1989. Experts attribute wrongful convictions to several causes, including misidentification by an eyewitness, improper forensic evidence, false confessions and the use of informants who testify against the accused.
No authoritative count of wrongful convictions in the rest of the world exists but one estimate comes from an unlikely source. Hans Sherrer, a former plumber living in Washington state, started tracking international wrongful convictions in 1996 and maintains the only known database for exonerations in the United States and abroad. He has counted more than 5,800 wrongful convictions worldwide, dating as far back as the early 20th century.
Wrongful convictions also contribute to a related problem—prison overcrowding. The United States has the largest prison population in the world and one of the leading incarceration rates, with about 2.2 million inmates, according to the International Centre for Prison Studies. And the number is growing. All five continents have experienced growth in prison population over the past 15 years. The estimated world prison population has increased by 25 percent to 30 percent, while the world population has grown by about 20 percent.
There is no way to know with certainty how many innocent people have been executed due to wrongful convictions. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, there’s strong evidence that at least 11 people who have been executed in the United States were innocent. However, a 2014 study published in the official journal of the National Academy of Sciences estimated that over the past 35 years, as many as 50 innocent people in the United States may have been executed.
If you have information about wrongful convictions, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 847-491-5840.
Wrongful Convictions by Country
Over the past two decades, Hans Sherrer has gathered information about wrongful convictions across the world largely from English-language press accounts and organizations devoted to investigating potentially wrongful convictions. The Medill Justice Project, which verified his sources, tabulated Sherrer’s findings by nation to try to better understand the extent of wrongful convictions internationally, given the dearth of data on the topic. Because of the sources of Sherrer’s information, the tally, per nation, may reflect in part where wrongful convictions are most often reported.
|United Arab Emirates||17|
|Republic of (South) Korea||12|
|Saint Kitts and Nevis||11|
|Trinidad and Tobago||9|
|Turks and Caicos Islands||5|
|Virgin Islands (British)||4|
|Netherlands (Dutch) Antilles||2|
|Isle of Man||1|
|Northern Mariana Islands||1|
|The Island of Jersey||1|
|United Nations court in the Hague||1|
Data from Hans Sherrer’s Innocents Database
Additional Resources on Wrongful Convictions
American Bar Association. “Achieving justice: Freeing the innocent, convicting the guilty.” Report of the ABA Criminal Justice Section’s Ad Hoc Committee to Ensure the Integrity of the Criminal Process. The American Bar Association (2006).
Anderson, Barrie, and Dawn Anderson. Manufacturing guilt: Wrongful convictions in Canada. Halifax, Canada: Fernwood, 1998.
Bandes, Susan. “Loyalty to One’s Convictions: The Prosecutor and Tunnel Vision.” Howard LJ 49 (2005): 475.
Bedau, Hugo Adam, Michael L. Radelet, and Constance E. Putnam. “Convicting the innocent in capital cases: Criteria, evidence, and inference.” Drake L. Rev.52 (2003): 587.
Bernhard, Adele. “When Justice Fails: Indemnification for Unjust Conviction.” University of Chicago Roundtable 73, no. 6 (1999).
Bowman, Locke E. “Lemonade Out of Lemons: Can Wrongful Convictions Lead to Criminal Justice Reform?” (2008): 1501-1518.
Burke, Alafair. “Neutralizing Cognitive Bias: An Invitation to Prosecutors.” NYUJL & Liberty 2 (2006): 512.
Campbell, Kathryn, and Myriam Denov. “The burden of innocence: Coping with a wrongful imprisonment.” Canadian journal of criminology and criminal justice 46, no. 2 (2004): 139-164.
Cassell, Paul G. “The guilty and the ‘innocent’: An examination of alleged cases of wrongful conviction from false confessions.” Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy 22 (1999).
Castelle, George, and Elizabeth F. Loftus. “and Wrongful Convictions.” Wrongly convicted: Perspectives on failed justice (2001): 17.
Cole, Simon A. “The Prevalence and Potential Causes of Wrongful Conviction by Fingerprint Evidence.” Golden Gate UL Rev. 37 (2006): 39.
Criminal Cases Review Commission. “Case library.” Accessed October 29, 2015. http://www.ccrc.gov.uk/case-library/.
Death Penalty Worldwide. “Innocence and Wrongful Convictions.” Last modified April 1, 2014. http://www.deathpenaltyworldwide.org/wrongful-convictions.cfm.
Denov, Myriam S., and Kathryn M. Campbell. “Criminal Injustice Understanding the Causes, Effects, and Responses to Wrongful Conviction in Canada.” Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 21, no. 3 (2005): 224-249.
Drizin, Steven A., and Greg Luloff. “Are juvenile courts a breeding ground for wrongful convictions.” N. Ky. L. Rev. 34 (2007): 257.
Drizin, Steven A., and Marissa J. Reich. “Heeding the lessons of history: The need for mandatory recording of police interrogations to accurately assess the reliability and voluntariness of confessions.” Drake L. Rev. 52 (2003): 619.
Duke University School of Law. “Wrongful Convictions Resources.” Accessed December 4, 2015. https://law.duke.edu/ccjpr/resources/.
Dwyer, Jim, Peter Neufeld, and Barry Scheck. “Actual innocence: When justice goes wrong and how to make it right.” (2001).
Eggers, Dave, Lola Vollen, and Scott Turow. Surviving Justice: America’s Wrongfully Convicted and Exonerated. McSweeney’s, 2015.
Findley, Keith A. “Learning from our mistakes: A criminal justice commission to study wrongful convictions.” California Western Law Review 38, no. 2 (2002).
Garrett, Brandon L. Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012.
Garrett, Brandon L. “Innocence, harmless error, and federal wrongful conviction law.” Wisconsin Law Review 35 (2005).
Garrett, Brandon L., and Peter J. Neufeld. “Invalid forensic science testimony and wrongful convictions.” Virginia Law Review (2009): 1-97.
Giannelli, Paul C. “Wrongful convictions and forensic science: the need to regulate crime labs.” North Carolina Law Review 86 (2011): 163.
Gould, Jon B. The Innocence Commission: Preventing wrongful convictions and restoring the criminal justice system. NYU Press, 2007.
Gould, Jon B., Julia Carrano, Richard Leo, and Joseph Young. “Predicting Erroneous Convictions: A Social Science Approach to Miscarriages of Justice.” University of San Francisco Law Research Paper (2013): 2013-2020. Accessed October 29, 2015.
Gould, Jon B., and Richard A. Leo. “One hundred years later: Wrongful convictions after a century of research.” Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 100, no. 3 (2010).
Griffin, Lissa. “The correction of wrongful convictions: a comparative perspective.” American University International Law Review 16 (2001).
Griffith University Innocence Project. Accessed November 5, 2015. https://www.griffith.edu.au/criminology-law/innocence-project.
Gross, Samuel R. “The Risks of Death: Why Erroneous Convictions are Common in Capital Cases.” Buff. L. Rev. 44 (1996): 469.
Gross, Samuel R., Chen Hu, Edward H. Kennedy, and Barbara O’Brien. “Rate of false conviction of criminal defendants who are sentenced to death.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 111 (2014): 7230-7235. Accessed October 29, 2015. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1306417111.
Gross, Samuel R., Kristen Jacoby, Daniel J. Matheson, Nicholas Montgomery, and Sujata Patil. “Exonerations in the United States 1989 through 2003.” Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology (2005): 523-560.
Gross, Samuel R., and Barbara O’Brien. “Frequency and predictors of false conviction: Why we know so little, and new data on capital cases.” Journal of Empirical Legal Studies 5, no. 4 (2008): 927-962. Accessed October 29, 2015. doi: 10.1111/j.1740-1461.2008.00146.x.
Grounds, Adrian. “Psychological consequences of wrongful conviction and imprisonment.” Canadian journal of criminology and criminal justice 46, no. 2 (2004): 165-182.
Grounds, Adrian T. “Understanding the effects of wrongful imprisonment.” Crime and Justice (2005): 1-58.
Harmon, Talia Roitberg. “Predictors of miscarriages of justice in capital cases.” Justice Quarterly 18, no. 4 (2001): 949-968.
Hasel, Lisa E., and Saul M. Kassin. “On the Presumption of Evidentiary Independence Can Confessions Corrupt Eyewitness Identifications?” Psychological Science 20, no. 1 (2009): 122-126.
Horan, David. “The Innocence Commission: An Independent Review Board for Wrongful Convictions.” N. Ill. UL Rev. 20 (2000): 91.
Huff, C. Ronald. “Wrongful conviction and public policy: The American society of criminology 2001 presidential address.” Criminology 40, no. 1 (2002): 1-18.
Huff, C. Ronald. “Wrongful convictions: The American experience.” Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice 46, no. 2 (2004): 107-120.
Huff, C. Ronald, Arye Rattner, and Edward Sagarin. Convicted but innocent: Wrongful conviction and public policy. Sage Publications, 1996.
Huff, C. Ronald, and Martin Killias, eds. Wrongful Conviction: International Perspectives on Miscarriages of Justice. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2008.
Huff, C. Ronald, and Martin Killias, eds. Wrongful convictions and miscarriages of justice: causes and remedies in North American and European criminal justice systems. Routledge, 2013.
Innocents Database. Last modified October 15, 2015. http://forejustice.org/innocentsdatabase.htm.
Innocent In Prison Project International. Accessed November 5, 2015. http://www.iippi.org/.
The Innocence Project. Accessed October 29, 2015. http://www.innocenceproject.org/cases-false-imprisonment.
International Commission of Jurists. Accessed November 5, 2015. http://www.icj.org/.
Ito, Kazuko. “Wrongful Convictions and Recent Criminal Justice Reform in Japan.” University of Cincinnati Law Review 80 (2011): 1245.
Japan Innocence & Death Penalty Information Center. Accessed November 5, 2015. http://www.jiadep.org/.
Johnson, Calvin C. Exit to freedom. University of Georgia Press, 2003.
Joy, Peter A. “The relationship between prosecutorial misconduct and wrongful convictions: Shaping remedies for a broken system.” Wisconsin Law Review (2006): 399.
The Judge Ben C. Green Law Library. “Wrongful Convictions.” Accessed December 4, 2015. http://lawlibrary.case.edu/research-guides/wrongful-convictions/.
Kassin, Saul M. “On the psychology of confessions: does innocence put innocents at risk?” American Psychologist 60, no. 3 (2005): 215.
Kassin, Saul M., Daniel Bogart, and Jacqueline Kerner. “Confessions That Corrupt Evidence From the DNA Exoneration Case Files.” Psychological science 23, no. 1 (2012): 41-45.
Konečni, Vladimir J., and Ebbe B. Ebbesen. “Courtroom testimony by psychologists on eyewitness identification issues: Critical notes and reflections.” Law and Human Behavior 10, no. 1-2 (1986): 117.
Lando, Henrik. “Does wrongful conviction lower deterrence?” The Journal of Legal Studies 35, no. 2 (2006): 327-337.
Lassiter, G., and Christian A. Meissner. Police interrogations and false confessions: Current research, practice, and policy recommendations. American Psychological Association, 2010.
Leipold, Andrew D. “How the Pretrial Process Contributes to Wrongful Convictions.” Am. Crim. L. Rev. 42 (2005): 1123.
Leo, Richard A. Police interrogation and American justice. Harvard University Press, 2008.
Leo, Richard A. “Rethinking the study of miscarriages of justice: Developing a criminology of wrongful conviction.” Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 21, no. 3 (2005): 201-223.
Leo, Richard A., and Deborah Davis. “From false confession to wrongful conviction: Seven psychological processes.” The Journal of Psychiatry & Law 38, no. 1-2 (2010): 9-56.
Leo, Richard A., and Steven A. Drizin. “The three errors: Pathways to false confession and wrongful conviction.” Police Interrogations and False Confessions: Current Research, Practice, and Policy Recommendations (American Psychological Association) (2010): 2012-04.
Loftus, Elizabeth F. Eyewitness testimony. Harvard University Press, 1996.
Loftus, Elizabeth. “Our changeable memories: Legal and practical implications.” Nature Reviews Neuroscience 4, no. 3 (2003): 231-234.
Luna, Erik. “System failure.” Am. Crim. L. Rev. 42 (2005): 1201.
Marshall, Lawrence C. “The Innocence Revolution and the Death Penalty.” Ohio St. J. Crim. L. 1 (2003): 573.
Martin, Dianne L. “Lessons about Justice from the Laboratory of Wrongful Convictions: Tunnel Vision, the Construction of Guilt and Informer Evidence.” UMKC L. Rev. 70 (2001): 847.
Martin, Dianne L. “The Police Role in Wrongful Convictions.” Wrongly convicted: Perspectives on failed justice (2001): 77.
McMunigal, Kevin C. “Guilty Pleas, Brady Disclosure, and Wrongful Convictions.” Case W. Res. L. Rev. 57 (2006): 651.
McMurtrie, Jacqueline. “The Role of the Social Sciences in Preventing Wrongful Convictions.” Am. Crim. L. Rev. 42 (2005): 1271.
Medwed, Daniel S. “Anatomy of a wrongful conviction: Theoretical implications and practical solutions.” Villanova Law Review 51 (2006): 05-37.
Medwed, Daniel S. “The Prosecutor as Minister of Justice: Preaching to the Unconverted from the Post-Conviction Pulpit.” Washington Law Review 84 (2009): 35.
Natapoff, Alexandra. “Beyond unreliable: How snitches contribute to wrongful convictions.” Golden Gate University Law Review (2006).
The National Registry of Exonerations. Accessed October 29, 2015. http://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/Pages/about.aspx.
Neufeld, Peter, Barry Scheck, Althea Wasow, and Taryn Simon. The Innocents. Umbrage Editions, 2003.
Norris, Robert J., Catherine L. Bonventre, Allison D. Redlich, and James R. Acker. “Than That One Innocent Suffer: Evaluating State Safeguards Against Wrongful Convictions.” Alb. L. Rev. 74 (2010): 1301.
Northwestern Law. “Center on Wrongful Convictions.” Accessed October 29, 2015. http://www.law.northwestern.edu/legalclinic/wrongfulconvictions/.
Parker, Karen F., Mari A. Dewees, and Michael L. Radelet. “Racial bias and the conviction of the innocent.” Wrongly convicted: Perspectives on failed justice (2001): 114-131.
People’s Law Office. “Wrongful Convictions.” Accessed December 4, 2015. http://peopleslawoffice.com/areas-of-practice-civil-rights-lawyers-criminal-defense/wrongful-convictions/.
Petro, Jim, and Nancy Petro. False Justice: Eight Myths That Convict the Innocent. Kaplan Publishing, 2011.
Poveda, Tony G. “Estimating wrongful convictions.” Justice Quarterly 18, no. 3 (2001): 689-708.
Radelet, Michael L. “Wrongful convictions of the innocent.” Judicature 86 (2002): 67.
Raeder, Myrna. “See No Evil: Wrongful Convictions and the Prosecutorial Ethics of Offering Testimony by Jailhouse Informants and Dishonest Experts.” Fordham Law Review 76 (2007).
Raeder, Myrna. “What Does Innocence Have to Do With It: A Commentary on Wrongful Convictions and Rationality.” L. Rev. MSU-DCL (2003): 1315.
Ramsey, Robert J., and James Frank. “Wrongful Conviction Perceptions of Criminal Justice Professionals Regarding the Frequency of Wrongful Conviction and the Extent of System Errors.” Crime & Delinquency 53, no. 3 (2007): 436-470.
Rattner, Arye. “Convicted but innocent: Wrongful conviction and the criminal justice system.” Law and Human Behavior 12, no. 3 (1988): 283.
Risinger, D. Michael. “Innocents convicted: An empirically justified factual wrongful conviction rate.” The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology (2007): 761-806.
Rizer III, Arthur L. “The Race Effect on Wrongful Convictions.” Wm. Mitchell L. Rev. 29 (2002): 845.
Roach, Kent. “Wrongful convictions: adversarial and inquisitorial themes.” North Carolina journal of international law and commercial regulation 35 (2010).
Russano, Melissa B., Christian A. Meissner, Fadia M. Narchet, and Saul M. Kassin. “Investigating true and false confessions within a novel experimental paradigm.” Psychological science 16, no. 6 (2005): 481-486.
Saks, Michael J., Lauri Constantine, Michelle Dolezal, and Jennifer Garcia. “Toward a Model Act for the Prevention and Remedy of Erroneous Convictions.” New Eng. L. Rev. 35 (2000): 669.
Scheck, Barry C., and Peter J. Neufeld. “Toward the Formation of Innocence Commmissions in America.” Judicature 86 (2002): 98.
Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission. Last modified April 30, 2015. http://www.sccrc.org.uk/home.aspx.
Smith, Earl, and Angela J. Hattery. “Race, wrongful conviction & exoneration.” Journal of African American Studies 15, no. 1 (2011): 74-94.
Stevens, Dennis J. “Forensic science, wrongful convictions, and American prosecutor discretion.” The Howard Journal of Criminal Justice 47, no. 1 (2008): 31-51.
South Wales Against Wrongful Conviction. Accessed November 5, 2015. http://swawc.org.uk/.
Taslitz, Andrew E. “Wrongly accused: Is race a factor in convicting the innocent.” Ohio St. J. Crim. L. 4 (2006): 121.
UBC Innocence Project at the Allard School of Law. Accessed November 5, 2015. http://www.allard.ubc.ca/innocenceproject/ubc-law-innocence-project.
Warden, Rob. “Revolutionary Role of Journalism in Identifying and Rectifying Wrongful Convictions, The.” UMKC l. Rev. 70 (2001): 803.
Warden, Rob, and Steven A. Drizin. True stories of false confessions. Northwestern University Press, 2009.
Westervelt, Saundra Davis, and John A. Humphrey. Wrongly convicted: Perspectives on failed justice. Rutgers University Press, 2001.
The Wrongful Convictions Blog. Last modified October 29, 2015. http://wrongfulconvictionsblog.org/.
Yaroshefsky, Ellen. “Wrongful Convictions: It Is Time to Take Prosecution Discipline Seriously.” UDC/DCSL L. Rev. 8 (2004): 275.
Zacharias, Fred C., and Bruce A. Green. “Duty to Avoid Wrongful Convictions: A Thought Experiment in the Regulation of Prosecutors, The.” BuL rev. 89 (2009): 1.
Zalman, Marvin. “Integrated Justice Model of Wrongful Convictions, An.” Alb. L. Rev. 74 (2010): 1465.
Zalman, Marvin, Brad Smith, and Angie Kiger. “Officials’ estimates of the incidence of “actual innocence” convictions.” Justice Quarterly 25, no. 1 (2008): 72-100.