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Study looks at frequency of wrongful convictions

Some people in Florida who have been convicted of a crime might be innocent. In around 3 to 5 percent of cases involving capital crimes, such as rape and murder, people are exonerated when new DNA evidence is discovered. However, several researchers wondered what the percentage was for other types of crimes ranging from drug possession to aggravated assault and armed robbery.

Their study, published in April in The Journal of Quantitative Criminology, surveyed almost 3,000 prisoners in Pennsylvania and found that 6 percent claimed they had been wrongly convicted. According to researchers, this is viewed as an upper limit. In other words, any error is likely to be in the direction of over- rather than underestimating the number of people wrongly convicted.

Although researchers had some trepidation about the accuracy of the information that would be self reported, they found that more than 60 percent of people took full responsibility for the crimes committed while one-quarter took partial responsibility. Researchers were able to get more accurate responses by convincing participants that their responses would be not be linked to individuals. Participants had the opportunity to explain themselves such as pointing out that while they did what they were convicted of, they did not intend to. The research provides a quantitative baseline for beginning to understand how often wrongful convictions may happen.

A person who has been charged with a crime has several options for criminal defense including pleading not guilty and going to trial. An attorney may be able to help a person strategize in such a situation. However, there might also be situations in which a person agrees to a deal with the prosecution that involves pleading guilty in exchange for a lighter sentence.

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