Forensic psychology
Forensic psychology

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

Forensic psychology

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%!).


Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371