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Social Science Research on Wrongful Convictions and Near Misses, 1980-2012

Version
v0
Resource Type
Dataset : administrative records data, aggregate data, survey data
Creator
  • Gould, Jon (American University)
  • Carrano, Julia (American University)
  • Leo, Richard (University of San Francisco)
  • Young, Joseph (American University)
Other Title
  • Archival Version (Subtitle)
Publication Date
2016-05-31
Funding Reference
  • United States Department of Justice. Office of Justice Programs. National Institute of Justice
Language
English
Free Keywords
case processing; confessions (law); court cases; courtroom proceedings; defendants; eyewitness memory; perjury; prosecution; witnesses; wrongful convictions
Description
  • Abstract

    These data are part of NACJD's Fast Track Release and are distributed as they were received from the data depositor. The files have been zipped by NACJD for release, but not checked or processed except for the removal of direct identifiers. Users should refer to the accompanying readme file for a brief description of the files available with this collection and consult the investigator(s) if further information is needed. This study examined how the criminal justice system avoids wrongful convictions by comparing violent felony cases that ended in an official exoneration after conviction ("wrongful convictions") with those in which defendants had charges dismissed before trial or were acquitted on the basis of their factual innocence ("near misses"). Data were collected on a total of 460 cases (260 wrongful convictions and 200 near misses), and these cases were compared quantitatively and qualitatively on variables that might explain the different outcomes. These variables included the usual causes of wrongful convictions, such as eyewitness misidentification, false confession, and forensic error, as well as demographic, social, and procedural variables.
  • Abstract

    The purpose of this study was to ascertain which factors explain how the criminal justice system identifies and addresses cases of factual innocence to prevent wrongful convictions. To accomplish this, the study compared felony cases that ended in an official exoneration with those in which defendants had charges dismissed or were acquitted on the basis of their factual innocence. The specific questions asked were as follows: What factors explained why innocent suspects were erroneously convicted in certain cases but acquitted or have their charges dismissed in other cases ("near misses")? ; What policy interventions would help the criminal justice system "get it right" and acquit the innocent, thereby preventing future erroneous convictions? ;
  • Abstract

    The study selected cases between January 1, 1980 to January 1, 2012 where a factually innocent defendant who was indicted by a state for a violent felony against a person and was subsequently relieved of all legal responsibility for the crime. Two categories were created: "erroneous convictions" for those who were exonerated after conviction, and "near misses" for those who were acquitted or had charges dismissed before conviction on the basis of factual innocence. To identify potential cases, prior publications in the field, internet websites and blogs were searched; media coverage of these incidents were investigated using online newspaper databases, such as Google Archives; and potential cases were solicited through national outreach to lawyers, criminal justice officials, local innocence projects, and scholars. From these sources 61 umbrella questions were collected on demographics, procedural information, and evidential information. The questions were designed to elicit factors that might distinguish erroneous convictions from dismissals and acquittals based on innocence. A modified Police Foundation Rating Scale was applied to both sets of cases to derive an evidentiary strength rating scale. To supplement our quantitative results with a qualitative context. An expert panel comprised of twelve criminal justice professionals, was convened to review 39 sample cases, drawn from the database of erroneous convictions (20) and near misses (19). The expert panel was asked to identify and discuss the significant errors in the sample cases.
  • Abstract

    Social Science Research on Wrongful Convictions and Near Misses dataset (n=460) contains variables on crime statistics of the jurisdiction, criminal history and demographics of the defendant such as race, age, and types of previous charges and convictions, evidential information such as relationship between the victim and offender, time interval between crime, arrest and indictment, forensic evidence, and witness information, procedural information such as reason for exoneration, method and responsible authority of exoneration, and time between conviction and exoneration, and measures of the evidentiary strengths of the prosecution and defense case.
  • Methods

    Presence of Common Scales: Police Foundation Strength of Evidence Scale
  • Table of Contents

    Datasets:

    • DS1: Dataset
Temporal Coverage
  • 1980-01-01 / 2012-01-01
    Time period: 1980-01-01--2012-01-01
  • Time period: 2012-02
  • 2010-01-07 / 2012-07-07
    Collection date: 2010-01-07--2012-07-07
  • Collection date: 2012-02
Geographic Coverage
  • United States
Sampled Universe
Factually innocent defendants convicted or indicted on a violent felony against a person no earlier than January 1, 1980 and exonerated, acquitted, or dismissed no later than January 1, 2012 in the United States. (Wrongful Convictions and Near Misses Dataset) Criminal justice professionals. (Expert Panel Dataset) Smallest Geographic Unit: County
Sampling
Social Science Research on Wrongful Convictions and Near Misses Dataset The defendant must have been factually innocent, and convicted or indicted on a violent felony against a person no earlier than January 1, 1980 and exonerated, acquitted, or dismissed no later than January 1, 2012 in the United States. Here factually innocent is defined as someone else having committed the crime. The potential cases were identified, under a common methodology, using multiple approaches. These included: examining prior publications in the field; searching internet websites and blogs; investigating media coverage of these incidents using online newspaper databases, such as Google Archives; and soliciting potential cases through national outreach to lawyers, criminal justice officials, local innocence projects, and scholars. Expert Panel Dataset An expert panel met over two days in early February 2012 at the American University campus in Washington, DC. The panelists were selected with the goal of providing a diversity of opinions and experiences in the field of criminal justice. The potential panelists were selected though nominations from experts or by their reputations as experts. The expert panel consisted of twelve criminal justice professionals: two prosecutors, two retired judges, a defense attorney, a police sergeant, a forensic scientist, and researchers on both police and prosecutor practices.
Collection Mode
  • record abstracts, mixed mode, telephone interview

    These data are part of NACJD's Fast Track Release and are distributed as they were received from the data depositor. The files have been zipped by NACJD for release, but not checked or processed except for the removal of direct identifiers. Users should refer to the accompanying readme file for a brief description of the files available with this collection and consult the investigator(s) if further information is needed.

    The qualitative Expert Panel dataset is not available. Please see the final report for a summary of the data.

Note
Funding insitution(s): United States Department of Justice. Office of Justice Programs. National Institute of Justice (2009-IJ-CX-4110).
Availability
Delivery
One or more files in this study are not available for download due to special restrictions; consult the study documentation to learn more on how to obtain the data.
Alternative Identifiers
  • 34522 (Type: ICPSR Study Number)
Relations
  • Is previous version of
    DOI: 10.3886/ICPSR34522.v1

Update Metadata: 2016-05-31 | Issue Number: 2 | Registration Date: 2016-05-31

Gould, Jon; Carrano, Julia; Leo, Richard; Young, Joseph (2016): Social Science Research on Wrongful Convictions and Near Misses, 1980-2012. Archival Version. Version: v0. ICPSR - Interuniversity Consortium for Political and Social Research. Dataset. https://doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR34522