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14 Ohio St. J. Crim. L. 753 (2016-2017)
What We Think, What We Know and What We Think We Know about False Convictions

handle is hein.journals/osjcl14 and id is 765 raw text is: 







           What We Think, What We Know and
 What We Think We Know About False Convictions


                             Samuel R. Gross*

     When   one man  dies it is a tragedy. When thousands die it's statistics.
                              Joseph Stalin, 1945'

                                    Abstract

    False  convictions are  notoriously difficult to study because they can
    neither be observed  when  they occur nor identified after the fact by any
    plausible research strategy. Our best shot is to collect data on those that
    come   to light in legal proceedings that result in the exoneration of the
    convicted   defendants.    In  May   2012,  the  National   Registry  of
    Exonerations   released its first report, covering 873 exonerations from
    January   1989 through  February  2012.  By  October  15, 2016, we  had
    added  1,027 cases: 599  exonerations since March  1, 2012, and 428 that
    had  already  happened  when  we  issued our initial report but were not
    known   to us. In this paper I discuss what  can and  cannot be learned
    from  the exonerations that we have collected. The cases we find and list
    are  not a complete  set of all exonerations that occur-not nearly-but
    it's clear from  the patterns we  see in known   exonerations  that false
    convictions outnumber   exonerations by orders of magnitude.  We cannot
    estimate  the rate of false convictions or their distribution across crime
    categories.   We  can confidently say, however,  that they are  not rare
    events-and other research has estimated the rate of false convictions
    among   death sentences at 4.1%, which provides  an anchor for estimates

    *   Thomas & Mabel Long Professor of Law, University of Michigan Law School. This is a
revised version of the 26th Annual Walter C. Reckless-Simon Dinitz Memorial Lecture, which I was
honored to give on April 17, 2015, at The Ohio State University. In order to retain as much of the
lecture format as possible, I have only provided footnotes where absolutely necessary. The original
data in this paper are all from the National Registry of Exonerations, which I edit. Information about
individual exonerees or their cases can easily be found on the Registry website under their names. I
would like to thank Professor Emerita Ruth Peterson and the Ohio State University Criminal Justice
Research Center for inviting me to give the Reckless-Dinitz Memorial Lecture and for being gracious
hosts, Professor Joshua Dressler for arranging for this publication and the editorial staff of the Ohio
State Journal of Criminal Law for their patient help. The research that is discussed in this article is
based on the impressive work of the staff of the National Registry of Exonerations, past and present:
Michael Shaffer, Alexandra Gross, Shannon Leitner, Kaitlin Jackson, Klara Stephens, and, more than
anybody, Maurice Possley. I am deeply grateful.
     I  DAVID MCCULLOUGH, TRUMAN  420 (1992).


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