What Innocence Means Today and Why It Matters
Univ. of San Francisco Law Research Paper No. 2016-08
8 Pages Posted: 30 Oct 2015 Last revised: 29 Mar 2016
Date Written: October 1, 2015
In this essay the author argues that the definition of innocence and the classification of wrongful convictions matters, both empirically and normatively. The advantage of an innocence-based definition of an exoneration is that it allows researchers access to more valuable data about the regularity, distribution, causes, correlates and consequences of near-certain wrongful convictions of the innocent than would otherwise be available if scholars limited themselves solely to those comparatively few cases in which factual innocence can be proven to an absolute certainty. By relying on an innocence-based definition of exoneration, researchers are also able to empirically study patterns and variation in the wrongful conviction of the innocent more quantitatively and thus more systematically, moving away from the story-based explanations that have dominated much of the research literature on wrongful convictions. As scholars accumulate more systematic and generalizable knowledge about the factors that contribute to wrongful conviction of the innocent, they will be able to provide more empirically-informed policy analyses about the best ways to prevent such convictions.
Keywords: criminal law, criminal procedure, factual innocence, wrongful conviction, exoneration
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