Advocacy and the Innocent Client

Defence Counsel Experiences with Wrongful Convictions and False Guilty Pleas


  • Caroline Erentzen University of Toronto
  • Regina A. Schuller York University
  • Kimberley A. Clow Ontario Techn



Wrongful Convictions, Exoneration, Miscarriage of Justice, False Guilty Pleas, Defence Counsel, Prevalance of wrongful convictions, Innocence


Much of our knowledge about wrongful convictions is derived from known exonerations, which typically involve serious violent offences and lengthy sentences. These represent only a small proportion of offences prosecuted in Canada each year, and little is known about how often innocent defendants may be wrongfully convicted of less serious offences. Recent discussions have begun to focus on the problem of false guilty pleas, in which defendants choose to  plead guilty to a lesser offence to avoid the time and cost required to defend their innocence. The majority of our knowledge of the factors contributing to wrongful convictions is based on American scholarship, with less empirical research exploring wrongful convictions within the Canadian context. The present research surveyed Canadian criminal defence lawyers about their experiences representing innocent clients, including their perspective on the underlying causes of wrongful convictions in Canada and their recommendations for reform to the criminal justice system. Nearly two-thirds of defence counsel in this study reported that they had represented at least one client who was convicted despite credible claims of innocence. Many reported that they regularly see innocent clients choose to enter a strategic false guilty plea, perceiving no meaningful or realistic alternative. Counsel described a system designed to elicit a guilty plea, with lengthy pre-trial delays, routine denial of bail, inadequate funding of Legal Aid, costly defence options, padded charges, and false evidence ploys. This research expands our knowledge of wrongful convictions in Canada, their hidden prevalence, and systemic problems that increase the likelihood of their occurrence.

Author Biographies

Caroline Erentzen, University of Toronto

Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Regina A. Schuller, York University

Professor of Psychology

Kimberley A. Clow, Ontario Techn

Professor of Psychology



2021-06-18 — Updated on 2021-07-21


How to Cite

Erentzen, C., Schuller, R., & Clow, K. (2021). Advocacy and the Innocent Client: Defence Counsel Experiences with Wrongful Convictions and False Guilty Pleas. The Wrongful Conviction Law Review, 2(1), 1–21. (Original work published June 18, 2021)