Wrongful Convictions and the Innocence Movement

Date01 February 2017
Published date01 February 2017
AuthorMarvin Zalman
Subject MatterIntroduction
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice
2017, Vol. 33(1) 4 –7
© The Author(s) 2016
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DOI: 10.1177/1043986216673007
Wrongful Convictions and
the Innocence Movement
Little more than a decade ago, a Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice special
issue, devoted to “Miscarriages of Justice,” was edited by capital punishment
scholar Robert Bohm (2005). Bohm noted that the subject “had not received much
scholarly attention from social scientists and especially criminologists.” Articles
in the issue shed light on a theory of prosecutorial misconduct (Schoenfeld, 2005),
on wrongful convictions in Canada (Denov & Campbell, 2005), and on restorative
justice and wrongful capital convictions (Barnett, 2005). But the article that illu-
minated the history and morphology of wrongful conviction scholarship, helped
define the contours of an academic specialty, and laid down a challenge to the
crime disciplines was Richard Leo’s (2005) “Rethinking the Study of Miscarriages
of Justice: Developing a Criminology of Wrongful Conviction.” His lead article
took criminologists to task for not engaging in wrongful conviction research at a
time that psychological and legal studies focusing on actual innocence were bur-
geoning, while explaining the daunting obstacles in gathering wrongful conviction
data for social scientific analysis. Leo’s article clarified a sprawling subject for all
readers. It goaded scholars already analyzing issues related to wrongful convic-
tions to redouble their efforts, and for some criminal justice scholars and crimi-
nologists, including me, inspired them to study a field that was not entirely defined
(Zalman, 2006).
In the decade since that special issue was published, the subject of wrongful con-
viction—as a group of academic sub-disciplines but more importantly as the locus of
a wide range of criminal justice reforms—has continued to grow. This growth was not
entirely undirected, for at the core of innocence policy innovation and advocacy lies
the innocence movement—the subject of this special issue.
The innocence movement’s policy influence has been impressive. Since the mid-
1990s, new federal and state laws, and innovative police, prosecution, and forensic
science programs—aimed at improving the accuracy of criminal conviction—have
been enacted. Research to better understand wrongful convictions have been funded.
A partial list of reforms include the following:
State laws giving inmates access to DNA evidence;
Federal grants assisting post-conviction DNA searches;
More states enacting exoneree compensation laws;
Increased compensation for wrongfully convicted federal prisoners, from
US$5,000 to US$50,000;
673007CCJXXX10.1177/1043986216673007Journal of Contemporary Criminal JusticeZalman

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