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Pennsylvania State University

Presumed Innocent? The Social Science of Wrongful Conviction

Pennsylvania State University via Coursera

This course may be unavailable.


According to the National Registry of Exonerations, a joint project of Michigan Law and Northwestern Law, over 1,600 individuals in the United States have been exonerated after being convicted for crimes they did not commit. These are the known cases of wrongful conviction—the actual number is much higher. Some of these individuals have served years, even decades, in prison for these crimes. Often, real offenders have escaped justice as a result of the wrong person being accused and convicted.

As noted, we will approach this topic from a social scientific perspective. Social science is a broad field that seeks to understand social interactions between individuals, groups, and institutions. The field includes academic disciplines such as sociology, criminology, psychology, economics, anthropology, political science, and other related disciplines. 

In this course we will explore wrongful convictions answering several key questions:

  • What do we mean by “wrongfully convicted,” and how common are wrongful convictions?
  • Who are wrongfully convicted?
  • Where in the criminal justice system do things go wrong to lead to wrongful convictions?
  • Why do wrongful convictions occur?
  • How can social science contribute to understanding, and preventing wrongful convictions?


For-credit option:

This course will also be offered for Penn State credit. This course option will require a heavier workload and offer instructor feedback and assessment on completed work.

More info here


Each week we will cover two lessons in the course. Each lesson, while related, will be considered independently.

Week One:
Introduction to the Criminal Justice System
Social Science and Public Policy: Due Process and Crime Control

Week Two:
Wrongful Conviction Defined
Wrongful Conviction Demographics and Statistics

Week Three:
Wrongful Conviction and the Criminal Justice Process—Where do things go wrong?
Causes of Wrongful Conviction: Eyewitness Misidentification—An Introduction

Week Four:
Causes of Wrongful Conviction: Eyewitness Misidentification—System Variables
Causes of Wrongful Conviction: Eyewitness Misidentification—Estimator Variables

Week Five:
Causes of Wrongful Conviction: False Confessions
Causes of Wrongful Conviction: Jailhouse Snitches and Informants

Week Six:
Causes of Wrongful Conviction: Government Misconduct and Poor Defense
Myths and Misconceptions of Decision-Makers: Judges, Juries, and the Public

Week Seven:
Using Social Science to Prevent Wrongful Convictions
What can you do?

Taught by

Tim Robicheaux and


4.7 rating, based on 3 Class Central reviews

Start your review of Presumed Innocent? The Social Science of Wrongful Conviction

  • Profile image for Irene Gkini
    Irene Gkini
    Absolutely loved it! Very interesting and informative, very good tutor support! I would definitely recommend it, hell I would even take it again myself!
  • Anonymous
    This class literally changed my life. I am now pursuing a law degree after learning more about this aspect of the CJ system. Highly recommend!
  • Julia Shumway

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