Prosecutor Risk, Maturation, and Wrongful Conviction Practice

30 Pages Posted: 20 Dec 2015 Last revised: 8 Jul 2020

See all articles by Kay Levine

Kay Levine

Emory University School of Law

Ronald F. Wright

Wake Forest University - School of Law

Date Written: 2016


In this article we rethink the connection between prosecutorial experience and conviction psychology that undergirds much of the academic literature about wrongful convictions. The conviction psychology account of prosecutorial behavior asserts that prosecutorial susceptibility to cognitive biases deepens over time, thereby increasing the risk that prosecutors will become involved in wrongful convictions the longer they stay in the profession.

Our interviews with more than 200 state prosecutors call into question the basis for this asserted correlation between prosecutorial experience and risk of misconduct. The prosecutors we met consistently reported that, all else equal, prosecutors tend to become more balanced, rather than more adversarial, over time. Hence, the prosecutors who present the greatest risk of producing a wrongful conviction are those who are either inexperienced or resistant to the normal maturation process. For this reason, we suggest that wrongful conviction researchers and database designers pay closer attention to the variables associated with prosecutorial experience and resistance that might affect the development of prosecutorial maturity and the consequent risk of wrongful convictions.

Suggested Citation

Levine, Kay and Wright, Ronald F., Prosecutor Risk, Maturation, and Wrongful Conviction Practice (2016). Law and Social Inquiry, Volume 42, Issue 3, 648-676, Summer 2017, Emory Legal Studies Research Paper No. 15-373, Available at SSRN:

Kay Levine (Contact Author)

Emory University School of Law ( email )

1301 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA 30322
United States

Ronald F. Wright

Wake Forest University - School of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 7206
Winston-Salem, NC 27109
United States
336-758-5727 (Phone)
336-758-4496 (Fax)

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