Identifying and Charging True Perpetrators in Cases of Wrongful Convictions
Keywords:wrongful convictions, true perpetrators, statutes of limitations, race, prosecutorial misconduct, innocence
True perpetrators—those who commit crimes that others were wrongfully convicted of—are a danger to society. Left unapprehended, these individuals often continue to commit crimes that could have otherwise been avoided. Despite the risk they pose, only about half of true perpetrators in DNA exoneration cases have been identified. Further, only 50% of those who have been identified have been charged with the wrongful conviction crime(s) they committed. Previous research on wrongful convictions, prosecutorial discretion in charging decisions, and prosecutors’ treatment of post-conviction innocence claims provide a starting point for investigating what factors underlie the identification and charging of true perpetrators. To explore these factors, we analyze 367 DNA exoneration cases and the resulting 161 identified true perpetrators. Results revealed that prosecutorial misconduct as a contributor to the wrongful conviction decreased the odds that a true perpetrator would be identified, but the odds increased if the victim was White and the exoneree was Black compared to if both were White. Odds of identification also decreased when, compared to murder, the most severe wrongful conviction crime type was child sex abuse or sexual assault. These factors were not significantly associated with the odds of an identified true perpetrator being charged with a wrongful conviction crime. A qualitative study revealed both definitively prohibitive and potentially influential factors that could influence a prosecutor’s decision not to charge an identified true perpetrator with these crimes. These findings indicate policy solutions that could hold true perpetrators of wrongful convictions crimes responsible for their actions.
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Copyright (c) 2020 Jennifer Weintraub, Kimberly Bernstein
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