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DNA has really changed the way that defense lawyers and prosecutors think about wrongful convictions and about the criminal justice process. But it has not changed it enough.

There are two distinct sets of prisoners who have been declared innocent and released from prison. One consists of DNA exonerees that was developed through the efforts of the innocence projects. The other consists of people who have been on death row who have been exonerated. Only relatively few of the death row exonerations were accomplished with DNA technology. This article examines both lists and discusses a few lessons that we are learning from DNA.

By studying the factors that contributed to the convictions of innocent people, we can see the need for reforms in criminal justice system, including the areas of eye-witness identification, interrogation procedures which produce false confessions, reliance upon informant testimony, junk science and other factors. The fact that DNA was responsible for only fifteen of the 123 death row exonerations at the time of this presentation suggests that capital defendants are at greater risk of wrongful conviction than other defendants, and that DNA is of limited use in preventing the execution of the innocent.

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Journal of the Institute of Justice and International Studies




Address by Sean O’Brien* to the Miscarriages of Justice Conference: Current Perspectives, UCM, February 19-21, 2007

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