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Up to 6 percent of convicted prisoners could be innocent

Texas readers would like to believe that the U.S. justice system always gets convictions right. However, a new study suggests that around 6 percent of all prisoners could be innocent of the crimes they were accused of. The study was published in the Journal of Quantitative Criminology in April.

Two researchers at Penn State University noted that DNA evidence eventually exonerates between 3 and 5 percent of those convicted of capital crimes like rape and murder, but there was no estimate available for how many people were wrongly convicted of less serious crimes. To rectify the gap in information, the pair surveyed almost 3,000 state prisoners in Pennsylvania. The survey asked a range of questions, including the prisoner's age, their feelings about the crime they were convicted of committing and whether they felt they were wrongfully convicted.

The researchers were initially concerned that some prisoners would decline to participate or lie about the accuracy of their convictions out of self-interest. However, they found that two-thirds of the inmates took full responsibility for their crimes, and 25 percent admitted they were at least somewhat guilty. Only 8 percent insisted they were completely innocent of their most recent crime. The researchers then judged the accuracy of the answers against prison administrative statistics and removed inmates who gave implausible answers. In the end, they estimated that 6 percent of prisoners could be innocent. It remains to be seen if the study's results can be reproduced in other states.

Individuals facing criminal charges may be able to avoid conviction by working with a criminal defense attorney. An attorney may work to protect a defendant's rights and help craft a defense against the allegations, which might lead to an acquittal or a dismissal of charges.

Source: Penn Today, "Wrongful convictions reported for 6 percent of crimes," Michele W. Berger, May 8, 2018

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