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.
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
Where in the
criminal justice system do things go wrong to lead to wrongful
Why do wrongful
How can social
science contribute to understanding, and preventing wrongful convictions?
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?