How common are false convictions?

| Jan 5, 2017 | Post-conviction Relief |

Most of our nation’s public school systems teach a few fundamental concepts about our criminal justice system as core beliefs that motivate Americans as a whole. Among those are the right to a fair trial, by a jury, that convicts based on evidence beyond all reasonable doubt. In theory, this should lead to a fair and impartial way of deciding who is and is not guilty. According to research, though, what happens in practice is completely different.

10,000 per year

If you are wondering how common convictions of people for crimes they did not commit happen nationally, researchers at The Ohio State University have concluded that the number is in the low five digits. The study included a look at 188 judges and police departments in Ohio, but it also included information from 41 states’ attorney generals to be sure that the information was nationally representative.

But how common are they?

Knowing how many people are falsely convicted each year is one thing. Understanding how common that is means knowing how many total convictions there are each year, though. That is the only way to know if these occurrence are really rare or quite regular. When you look at the numbers, it turns out that convictions that are proven to be false only make up about 0.5 percent of all convictions.

There’s a problem with those numbers, though. As National Geographic explains, the fact that post-conviction relief is so rare doesn’t necessarily mean that false convictions are rare. There are a number of circumstances that can lead to a false conviction never being addressed, and there is currently no way for the research to track how many of those convictions exist. What is known is:

  • Most post-conviction relief is centered around murders and death penalty cases.
  • There are large areas of the law with little research or documentation to add to the body of knowledge on the subject.
  • Most convictions are actually the result of plea deals.

Despite this, though, researchers have managed to arrive at an estimate based on the available data and the number of cases nationally not covered by the data – and it is over 4 percent.

What should you do?

If you have been convicted of a crime you are not guilty of, you need legal advice designed to bring you post-conviction relief. That means finding attorneys who have experience with appeals and with the specific kinds of post-conviction measures that are useful to someone convicted of the charges brought against you. Criminal defense is not all the same, and when it comes to your success, you need to know that your attorney has the background necessary to understand every option available to you, and to help you access the best ones.