Wrongful Conviction: The Evidence From Oklahoma's Eight DNA Exonerations

Joy Hadwiger, Oklahoma State University

Capital punishment has come under significant scrutiny over the last several years especially as DNA evidence has provided a new source of evidence to be considered by the court. Many of the discussions and media coverage of wrongful convictions focus on the specific cases and the consequence to the individual defendants, perpetuating an impression that wrongful convictions are isolated incidents resulting from uncommon circumstances. While acknowledging the individual impact to defendants, this research suggests that situations of wrongful conviction are not the isolated atypical occurrences we are led to believe but rather are the result of routine procedures in the criminal justice system. It is important to consider the source of wrongful conviction in this broader, systemic sense; an outgrowth of systematic error, which has become entrenched in the systems, regularly relied upon to assure that justice is done in order to understand the broader implications these processes can have.

Focusing on the proposition that systemic causes and consequences are at the heart of wrongful convictions, the eight instances of exoneration of actual innocents occurring in Oklahoma since the introduction of DNA testing will be used to document and evaluate the structural causes of wrongful conviction. Through reviews of news paper accounts, court records, trial transcripts and appeals rulings in each of these eight cases a pattern of error emerges which can be used to demonstrate the extent to which organizational processes have lead to wrongful conviction.

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Updated 05/20/2006