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Up to 6 percent of prisoners could be innocent

Being convicted for a crime one didn't commit is a nightmare scenario most New Yorkers wouldn't care to contemplate. However, that nightmare could be a reality for up to 6 percent of prisoners nationwide according to a new study. The study was published in the Journal of Quantitative Criminology in April.

Over the years, DNA-based exonerations have made it clear that around 3 to 5 percent of defendants convicted of capital crimes like rape and murder turn out to be innocent, but no estimates were available regarding the number of prisoners who may have been wrongly convicted of less serious crimes. To address the gap in data, two Penn State University criminologists decided to survey nearly 3,000 state prisoners in Pennsylvania about the accuracy of their criminal convictions. The prisoners were assured that their answers would be anonymous in hopes it would quell the urge to lie out of self-interest.

The anonymity of the survey seemed to get the survey's participants to open up. Two-thirds of them admitted that they were guilty of their latest crimes, and another 25 percent admitted that they were at least partly guilty. Just 8 percent of the prisoners claimed to be factually innocent of the crimes they were convicted of. The authors of the study took measures to weed out prisoners who gave dubious answers and eventually estimated that up to 6 percent of prisoners could be serving time for crimes they did not commit. They are currently studying the results of a recent replication of the survey.

Defendants might be able to avoid conviction by working with a criminal defense attorney. An attorney may work to protect a client's rights and challenge the prosecution's evidence and version of events.

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

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