Wrongful Convictions

April 17, 2009 • Volume 19, Issue 15
Is overhaul of the criminal justice system needed?
By Steve Weinberg


r20090417-cover.jpg (AP Photo/Kelley McCall)
(AP Photo/Kelley McCall)

Until March 2009, few Americans had heard of Ronald Cotton, who was convicted in North Carolina of raping a college student and served 11 years in prison before being exonerated by DNA testing. Now Cotton is a household name because of a book about his case and appearances on “60 Minutes” and NBC's “Today” show. As recently as 10 years ago, the proposition that innocent men and women regularly end up in prison failed to find traction. Today, thanks to the power of DNA evidence, media coverage and the establishment of innocence projects, there is general acceptance that wrongful convictions indeed occur. Dozens of states have passed laws to prevent wrongful convictions and compensate those wrongly imprisoned. Defense attorneys and many academics say wrongful convictions are a recurrent problem requiring substantial changes in the criminal justice system, but prosecutors, police and other academics say mistaken convictions are such a small percentage of all cases that the system should mostly be left alone.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
May 27, 2022  Crime in America
Feb. 10, 2017  Forensic Science Controversies
Feb. 05, 2016  Restorative Justice
Jan. 30, 2015  Central American Gangs
Aug. 29, 2014  Transnational Crime
Aug. 09, 2013  Sexual Assault in the Military
Oct. 26, 2012  Mexico's Future
Apr. 20, 2012  Criminal Records and Employment
Apr. 19, 2011  Honor Killings
Sep. 2010  Crime in Latin America
Jul. 16, 2010  Gangs in the U.S.
Jul. 17, 2009  Examining Forensics
Apr. 17, 2009  Wrongful Convictions Updated
Feb. 08, 2008  Fighting Crime
Oct. 11, 2002  Corporate Crime
Apr. 04, 1997  Declining Crime Rates
Dec. 10, 1982  Arson: America's Most Costly Crime
May 07, 1982  Helping Victims of Crime
Mar. 13, 1981  Violent Crime's Return to Prominence
Jul. 15, 1977  Crime Reduction: Reality or Illusion
Jan. 19, 1972  Crime of Rape
Jan. 22, 1969  Street Crime in America
Jan. 17, 1968  Burglary Prevention
Sep. 22, 1965  Compensation for Victims of Crime
Feb. 17, 1965  Criminal Justice and Crime Control
Oct. 18, 1961  Control of City Crime
Jun. 20, 1929  Crime and the Courts
Crime and Law Enforcement
Domestic Issues