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Wrongful convictions and claims of false or misleading forensic evidence

NCJ Number
Journal of Forensic Sciences Volume: Online Dated: March 2023
Date Published
March 2023

This study examined case factors associated with wrongful convictions classified by the National Registry of Exonerations.


A forensic error typology has been developed to provide a structure for the categorization and coding of factors relating to misstatements in forensic science reports; errors of individualization or classification; testimony errors; issues relating to trials and officers of the court; and evidence handling and reporting issues. This study, which included the analysis of 1391 forensic examinations, demonstrates that most errors related to forensic evidence are not identification or classification errors by forensic scientists. When such errors are made, they are frequently associated with incompetent or fraudulent examiners, disciplines with an inadequate scientific foundation, or organizational deficiencies in training, management, governance, or resources. More often, forensic reports or testimony miscommunicate results, do not conform to established standards, or fail to provide appropriate limiting information. Just as importantly, actors within the broader criminal justice system—but not under the purview of any forensic science organization—may contribute to errors that may be related to the forensic evidence. System issues include reliance on presumptive tests without confirmation by a forensic laboratory, use of independent experts outside the administrative control of public laboratories, inadequate defense, and suppression or misrepresentation of forensic evidence by investigators or prosecutors. In approximately half of wrongful convictions analyzed, improved technology, testimony standards, or practice standards may have prevented a wrongful conviction at the time of trial. (Published abstract provided)

Date Published: March 1, 2023