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Forensic psychology
Forensic psychology

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2.1 Causes of miscarriages of justice

Miscarriages of justice are one of the most significant legal issues that have acted as a catalyst for psychological research.

In particular, psychological research has been concerned with miscarriages of justice involving the wrong person being convicted of a crime, resulting in an innocent person being sent to prison, often for many years. This is obviously a terrible consequence and something to be avoided. Remember also that if an innocent person is convicted, the guilty person remains free, making wrongful convictions doubly problematic.

In the following activity you are provided with eight factors that have contributed to wrongful convictions (based on data from Scheck, Neufeld and Dwyer, 2000). Can you work out which is the most problematic?

Activity 3 Miscarriages of justice

Timing: Allow about 5 minutes

Arrange the factors in order from the most problematic at the top, to the least problematic at the bottom. To move a factor, click on it and drag it to a new position. There is no limit to the number of moves you can make.

Using the following two lists, match each numbered item with the correct letter.

  1. eyewitness misidentification

  2. forensic blood analysis

  3. police misconduct

  4. defective/fraudulent science

  5. false confessions

  6. false witness testimony

  7. informants

  8. DNA inclusions

  • a.1

  • b.7

  • c.5

  • d.8

  • e.3

  • f.6

  • g.4

  • h.2

The correct answers are:
  • 1 = a
  • 2 = h
  • 3 = e
  • 4 = g
  • 5 = c
  • 6 = f
  • 7 = b
  • 8 = d


How did you get on working out which factors seem to lead to the most miscarriages of justice?

As well as being surprised that police misconduct seems so prevalent and that forensic blood analysis may not be as reliable as it is portrayed in fictional crime drama, you may well have been shocked that mistaken identification is a factor in over 75% of the cases of wrongful conviction that were analysed (in fact the figure was 81%!).