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A criminal study finds errors in some convictions

One of the first studies to determine the rate of wrongful, non-murder convictions was recently conducted in Pennsylvania. The study found a slightly higher rate of mistaken convictions than in murder or capital crime cases.

The lead researcher, a criminologist from a Pennsylvania university, created the study to focus on crimes other than homicide and rape, which he believed to be covered in other research. Under his team's methodology, he determined that that conviction rate of innocent defendants was approximately 6 percent as opposed to 3 to 5 percent for the murder or rape cases previously studied.

The methodology used in the study consisted of survey responses from approximately 3,000 inmates in the Pennsylvania corrections system. If respondents claimed they were not guilty of the crimes charged, they were required to expand on the answer. Responses were then compared against administrative records in the inmate's case for inconsistencies and plausibility.

Though there was a fear that most inmates would either not respond or respond untruthfully, the study team found this was not the case. The response percentage was considered high. In terms of the truthfulness of the responses, the researchers found that more than 90 percent of those responding took at least partial responsibility for the crime in which they were convicted. Researchers see this as a start point on the issue rather than the end point.

Many people believe that few if any innocent people are convicted of a crime. However, criminal defense attorneys know otherwise. Those charged should never assume that a prosecutor is on his or her side or that the criminal justice will be infallible in the case. A competent defense for the criminally accused is vital to a properly working criminal justice system.

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