“There have been 255 post-conviction DNA exonerations in the United States.
• The first DNA exoneration took place in 1989. Exonerations have been won in 34 states; since 2000, there have been 189 exonerations.
• 17 of the 255 people exonerated through DNA served time on death row.
• The average length of time served by exonerees is 13 years. The total number of years served is approximately 3,245.
• The average age of exonerees at the time of their wrongful convictions was 27.”
The discovery of wrongful convictions in Anglo-American systems over the last twenty years has shaken confidence in the adversarial system of criminal justice. The first part of this article will assess the main identified causes of wrongful convictions in Anglo-American systems through the lens of what they reveal about the limits of the adversary system. Six main causes will be discussed, namely mistaken eyewitness identification, lying witnesses, false confessions and false guilty pleas, faulty forensic evidence, tunnel vision or confirmation bias, and inadequate defense representation. The second part of this article will assess possible remedies for wrongful convictions in Anglo-American systems through the lens of the extent to which they attempt to improve the adversarial system and the extent to which they adopt practices that use inquisitorial methods of investigation.
The third part of the article will discuss reform proposals for preventing and remedying wrongful convictions that explicitly or implicitly draw on inquisitorial ideals. It will be suggested that many adversarial systems can easily accommodate inquisitorially inspired reforms. Finally, this article will draw some conclusions about what wrongful convictions can tell us about adversarial and inquisitorial systems. The weaknesses and blind spots of each system will be examined as a prelude to suggesting that combining aspects of adversarial and inquisitorial systems can best prevent and remedy wrongful convictions. Each system can and should learn from the other in order to better prevent and remedy wrongful convictions.