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Criminal Law & Procedure: Wrongful Conviction

Selected Books from the Catalog

Journal Articles

To find law journal and law review articles discussing wrongful conviction, exoneration and DNA evidence, use one of the following resources available via a link from the Law Library's Research Databases page:

  • Current Index to Legal Periodicals
  • Index to Legal Periodicals
  • LegalTrac
  • HeinOnline's Law Journal Library

 

HeinOnline, Lexis and Westlaw have selective full-text coverage of law review and law journal articles.

Introduction

According to Black's Law Dictionary, wrongful conviction is "1. A conviction of a person for a crime that he or she did not commit. 2. Broadly, a conviction that has been overturned or vacated by an appellate court. 3. At the end of an impeachment trial, a legislative body's declaration that the defendant is guilty of misconduct. 4. A strong belief or opinion."

Causes of wrongful convictions, according to the New England Innocence Project, may include eyewitness misidentification, unvalidated forensic science, false confessions, "snitch" testimony, police and prosecutorial misconduct, and poor defense lawyering.

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KEYWORDS

When searching for materials concerning wrongful conviction, try using the following keywords or phrases:

wrongful conviction, erroneous conviction, incentivized witnesses, flawed forensic science, eyewitness error, false or coerced confessions, official misconduct, exonerate or exonerations, inadequate legal defense, false imprisonment, judicial error, prosecutorial misconduct, evidence, DNA, post-conviction remedies

Primary Sources

Use Lexis Advance, Westlaw Next or Bloomberg Law to locate relevant law.  

Pending Legislation

Westlaw Next:  Go to Browse > All Content > Proposed & Enacted Legislation.  Then select your jurisdiction or topic.

Lexis Advance:  Go to Explore Content > Content Type > Statutes & Legislation > Bill Tracking.  Then select your jurisdiction or topic.

Cases and Statutes

Access cases and statutes on Westlaw NextLexis Advance, or Bloomberg Law.  You have the option of searching by keyword (try some of the examples above), or typing in a citation to go directly to a known case or statute.

Some examples are:

  • MA General Laws ch. 278A - Post Conviction Access to Forensic and Scientific Analysis (DNA Access Legislation)

  • Comm. v. Cameron, 473 Mass. 100 (2015) and State v. Dechaine, 572 A.2d 130 (Me. 1990)

See the guides on Massachusetts State Law and State Law Research for additional tips. 

Selected Websites and Databases

The following is a non-exhaustive list of databases to which the law library subscribes, along with websites for selected nonprofit and government groups, each with examples of tools useful for research

SUBSCRIPTION DATABASES

Lexis Advance

 

Westlaw Next

  • David Hartnagel, Seeking Justice for the Erroneously Convicted:  Assessing the First Decade of Compensation Claims Under Chapter 258D, BOSTON BAR JOURNAL (Winter 2016).

  • David Siegel & Gregory Massing, Preserving Evidence to Convict the Guilty and Protect the Innocent: Massachusetts' Post-Conviction Access to Forensic and Scientific Analysis Act, BOSTON BAR JOURNAL (Fall 2012).

 

WEBSITES

The Innocence Network is a group of organizations from around the world - nonprofits, law school-affiliated organizations, public defender offices, pro bono sections of law firms -  working to exonerate the wrongly convicted and address the causes of wrongful conviction.  See their member list here.

One well-known member of the Innocence Network is The Innocence Projecta New York-based "national litigation and public policy organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted individuals through DNA testing and reforming the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice."  In 2007, they did a survey of Innocence Commissions.  

The New England Innocence Project is a Boston-based member of the Innocence Network, serving those convicted in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, Connecticut and Rhode Island. 

National Registry of Exonerations provides detailed information about every known exonerations in the United States since 1989—cases in which a person was wrongly convicted of a crime and later cleared of all the charges based on new evidence of innocence.

The Sentencing Project works for a fair and effective U.S. criminal justice system by promoting reforms in sentencing policy, addressing unjust racial disparities and practices, and advocating for alternatives to incarceration.

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) encourages, at all levels of federal, state and local government, a rational and humane criminal justice policy for America -- one that promotes fairness for all; due process for even the least among us who may be accused of wrongdoing; compassion for witnesses and victims of crime; and just punishment for the guilty.

National evidence retention standards have been set forth by the International Association for Property and Evidence, a non-profit organization "created by and for law enforcement professionals to help establish recommended standards for all property and evidence departments," and the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Training.  

The National Center for Victims of Crime has a DNA Resource Center dedicated "to raising awareness about the importance of forensic DNA as a tool to help solve and prevent crime and bring justice to victims."  See here for their state-by-state comparison of evidence retention laws. 

 

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