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Study finds 6 percent of prisoners were wrongfully convicted

When a person is exonerated for wrongful conviction based on new DNA evidence, Washington residents may hear about it, especially when the person was originally found guilty of serious crimes like murder or rape. About 3 to 5 percent of these types of cases are affected by DNA evidence. However, the estimates for exonerations of other crimes, ranging from aggravated assault to drug possession or theft, are not widely known.

Determining an estimation on the number of wrongful convictions can be difficult. One method would be to ask the judges, prosecutors and other workers involved in the criminal justice system for their opinions. However, these responses can be difficult to generalize for the purposes of a study. The second method is to directly ask those who were convicted of a crime as they know their actual involvement in the crime they were convicted of.

For the purposes of the study, several researchers surveyed an intake population of 3,000 Pennsylvania prisoners who were found guilty on a wide range of criminal charges. The responses provided by the prisoners were assessed for accuracy by comparing them to administrative data. The study found that 6 percent reported that they had been wrongly convicted.

Going through the criminal justice system can be difficult and overwhelming, especially when the evidence is varied or authorities are not following proper procedures, potentially causing a person to be convicted of a crime he or she was not involved in. If new evidence becomes available, the evidence appears to have been mishandled or it can be proven that proper procedures were not followed, a criminal defense attorney may appeal the conviction in an effort to seek a new criminal trial. In some cases, the conviction might potentially be overturned by the court. Otherwise, the attorney may request that a higher court reverse the decision made by the lower court.

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