Identifying How an Individual Becomes a Suspect

A Needed Addition to the Innocence Literature


  • Noah Barr John Jay College of Criminal Justice
  • Glinda Cooper



Innocence, Suspect, Investigations, Crime, Pathways


Flawed eyewitness testimony, faulty forensics, and police misconduct are common factors that may contribute to wrongful conviction. However, what brings someone over the threshold of suspicion where these factors are used to build the case against them? To answer that question, we built upon the limited number of previous studies examining how someone becomes a suspect in serious crimes (e.g., murder, rape). This exploratory study utilized Innocence Project materials pertaining to 232 exonerated clients and 75 individuals for whom post-conviction DNA testing was found to be an “inclusion” (i.e., supportive of the prosecution’s theory of guilt). Based on case files, we coded pathways to becoming a suspect. These pathways included tips, matched description, previous law enforcement encounters, physical evidence, and other scenarios; more than one pathway could be used for each individual. While several pathways were found to be similar in both groups, differences were seen in pathways related to physical evidence, officers putting individuals under duress during questioning, and proximity to the crime. This exploratory analysis provides a basis for designing future hypothesis-based research to further examine the observed associations and provide further insights into the investigative processes that can lead to wrongful convictions.




How to Cite

Barr, N., & Cooper, G. (2023). Identifying How an Individual Becomes a Suspect : A Needed Addition to the Innocence Literature. The Wrongful Conviction Law Review, 4(1), 48–70.