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Common reasons why wrongful convictions occur

Wrongful convictions are a serious problem, particularly in New York. In fact, just yesterday we wrote about a top Brooklyn politician who wants to set up a special commission to investigate wrongful convictions, their causes and the people to blame.

What is particularly scary about wrongful convictions is that some studies, including one published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, have concluded that more than 4 percent of prisoners sentenced to death -- or 1 in 25 -- would be exonerated if given enough time to prove their innocence.

So why are there so many victims of wrongful convictions? Well, there are several reasons, including:

  • Eyewitness misidentifications: According to the Innocent Project, eyewitness misidentification is involved in more than 70 percent of all wrongful convictions eventually overturned using DNA evidence.
  • False confessions: The Innocence Project also reports that more than 25 percent of those wrongfully convicted, but later exonerated using DNA evidence, made a false confession -- often under duress.
  • Official misconduct: Another major cause of wrongful convictions is the misconduct of government officials and police, including instances of withholding evidence, witness tampering and false/fraudulent testimony. In fact, according to a report by the Associated Press, many of the cases currently being reviewed in Brooklyn are tied to a retired detective named Louis Scarcella, who has been accused of coercing confessions and manipulating witnesses, although he denies any wrongdoing.

It is important to keep in mind, however, that these are just a few of the many reasons why people are wrongfully convicted of crimes they did not commit.

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