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Policing and Wrongful Convictions

NCJ Number
Date Published
August 2014
32 pages

One of a series of papers to be published from the Executive Session on Policing and Public Safety, this paper calls for strong leadership from police agencies in leading reviews of wrongful convictions, so as to benefit all components of the criminal justice system in addressing this issue.


Section I reviews what has been learned from studying exonerations of wrongfully convicted persons over the past 20 years. The review addresses the characteristics of exonerees, the factors that contributed to wrongful convictions, and the best practices that address these factors. Section II considers the role played by cognitive biases in wrongful convictions. Section III presents recommendations derived from research that has examined factors that will minimize the likelihood of wrongful convictions. These factors include mistaken eyewitness identifications, false confessions, false informant testimony, and flawed evidence preservation. This section also recommends an approach that involves learning from errors and viewing mistakes as due to system-wide weaknesses. Section IV suggests how police can assist in post-conviction investigations and work with other stakeholders in uncovering past errors. The paper advises that adopting the proposed recommends will minimize the number of wrongful convictions and prevent police from overlooking actual perpetrators early in an investigation by focusing on misleading evidence that targets the wrong person. Case examples of post-conviction review are provided. Approximately 70 references and a listing of the members of the Executive Session on Policing and Public Policy

Date Published: August 1, 2014