Unveiling Wrongful Convictions Between the U.S. and Italy

Cross-learning from Each Other’s Mistakes

Keywords: false confessions, forensic error, innocence project, plea bargaining, jailhouse informants, comparative procedure, wrongful conviction


This paper focuses on the issue of wrongful convictions as it emerged in the US during the nineties and subsequently gained attention throughout Europe. The first paragraph focuses on the factors that have brought the issue of wrongful convictions to light and on the impact that the US experience has had on the European Criminal Systems’ acknowledgment of the problem. The second paragraph suggests that the perspective of the Italian jurist might be privileged when confronted with the topic of wrongful convictions, as the Italian criminal justice system was designed to combine the best aspects of both inquisitorial and adversarial systems. For this reason, one would expect the Italian system as generating few wrongful convictions. Facts and figures, however, do not support this expectation. The third paragraph therefore focuses on those that might be the main causes for wrongful convictions within the Italian system, and it subsequently points out one major flaw of the Italian approach to the issue of wrongful convictions: the absence of a national database providing detailed information on previous cases of wrongful convictions. The paper then takes the US National Registry of Exonerations and the establishment of CIUs as positive examples from which Italy should learn. The conclusive paragraph highlights one positive aspect of the Italian system, i.e. the limitations to plea bargaining, and suggests that they might be taken as an example in other countries’ reforms of such mechanism.