American Judges Association


Date of this Version



Court Review, Volume 48, Issues 1-2, 22-34


Copyright © 2012 American Judges Association. Used by permission.


Although no one knows precisely how many wrongful convictions occur each year, a study examining DNAexoneration cases estimated that in 3.3% to 5% of the capital rape-murder convictions in the U.S. from 1982-1989, the defendants were innocent. If this percentage of wrongful convictions applied to other types of crimes, there would be 33,000 to 50,000 wrongful felony convictions per year in the U.S.

Eyewitness error is the leading cause of wrongful convictions. In fact, Professor Gary Wells and other prominent eyewitness researchers stated that “cases of proven wrongful convictions of innocent people have consistently shown that mistaken eyewitness identification is responsible for more of these wrongful convictions than all the other causes combined.” For example, in the first 271 DNA-exoneration cases, eyewitness error occurred in 75% of the cases. In many of the DNA-exoneration cases, multiple eyewitnesses identified the defendant as the perpetrator of the crime and several of the defendants were on death row when they were exonerated.