Wrongful Conviction: Evidence From Oklahoma's DNA Exonerations

Joy Hadwiger, Oklahoma State University

ABSTRACT
Over the last several years as DNA has provided a new source of evidence to be considered by the court, capital punishment has come under significant scrutiny. Many of the court discussions and media coverage of wrongful convictions focus on specific cases and the consequence to the individual defendants. This situation serves to perpetuate 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 they are the result of routine procedures in the criminal justice system. To understand the broader implications these processes have it is necessary to consider the source of wrongful conviction in an unrestricted, systemic way. Viewing error as an outgrowth of systematic processes entrenched in the organization and regularly relied upon to assure that justice is done places wrongful conviction at the heart of the struggle between due process and crime control. Focusing on this proposition, the nine instances of exoneration of actual innocents occurring in Oklahoma as a result 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 cases a pattern of error emerges which can be used to demonstrate the extent to which organizational processes lead to wrongful conviction.

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Updated 05/20/2006