What is a Wrongful Conviction?

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  • Written By: Daphne Mallory
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 26 February 2020
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A wrongful conviction is a miscarriage of justice arising from a criminal proceeding. The defendant is convicted of a crime he did not commit, and the error is often not proved until after the defendant’s death or after he serves a significant portion of his jail sentence. There are several causes for wrongful convictions, including false eye witness reports, incompetent defense lawyers, and improper forensic science. Some attorneys have been successful in proving the innocence of convicted felons by use of DNA evidence. That avenue is sometimes not available because biological evidence is often destroyed or lost after a conviction.

The term wrongful conviction is not commonly used in civil lawsuits. It’s mainly used to describe a final judgment of guilt in a criminal trial against a defendant who is innocent of the crimes. The highest official in a region, such as a governor of a state, can pardon a defendant and exonerate her if the conviction is overturned. In addition to granting the exonerated her freedom, the region is responsible for restoring her financially.


The person who gets an overturned conviction is called the exoneree, or the exonerated prisoner. That person often has certain rights because of the pain, suffering, and other losses associated with a wrongful conviction. Some jurisdictions have compensation laws, and exonerees can claim compensation benefits; the benefit is often a sum based on the total years served. Exonerees in jurisdictions with or without those laws can file civil lawsuits to receive just compensation, and in some cases, an additional award of punitive damages. The prosecutor in a criminal proceeding acts on behalf of the region or state, and therefore the taxpayers often are the ones to pay for wrongful convictions. An exoneree is often paid a sum based on the total years served.

The reasons for a wrongful conviction are numerous. One common cause is false eye witness reports. Witnesses sometimes misidentify the defendant, and that evidence is used for juries to reach a guilty verdict. Another common cause is sheer incompetence on the part of defense lawyers. Some attorneys do not attend scheduled hearings, fall asleep during the criminal proceeding, or fail to contact experts in regard to the forensic science at issue in the case. That results in yet another common cause of wrongful convictions, and that is the admission of faulty forensic evidence, which is often faulty due to improper methods of testing or misconduct.


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Post 1

A cause for wrongful conviction left out of this article is prosecutorial misconduct, which includes hiding evidence favorable to the defendant and the deliberate use of perjured testimony.

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