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The Impact of False or Misleading Forensic Evidence on Wrongful Convictions

NCJ Number
Date Published
November 2023

This article examines the impact of problematic forensic evidence on wrongful convictions, providing an overview of a research project designed to improve understanding of the specific types of errors associated with forensic evidence which resulted in the development of a forensic error typology.


As of 2023, the National Registry of Exonerations has recorded over 3,000 cases of wrongful convictions in the United States. Organizations such as The Innocence Project work to free the innocent and prevent these convictions, so far exonerating 375 people, including 21 who served on death row. Dr. Jon Gould of the University of California at Irvine has claimed that faulty forensic science is partly to blame for some of these convictions. As one of the architects of research that assesses the impact of forensic science on wrongful convictions, he has cited flawed eyewitness identification, confessions, testimony, police and prosecutorial conduct, defense lawyering, and forensic science as factors related to wrongful convictions. He stressed these are “factors” rather than “causes” because in prior analyses researchers have not been able to draw conclusions about causation because the studies did not use control groups. To understand the causes, or etiology, of the errors in forensic science specifically, the National Institute of Justice enlisted the help of Dr. John Morgan, independent research consultant, to analyze and describe the impact of forensic science on erroneous convictions that the National Registry of Exonerations classified as being associated with “false or misleading forensic evidence.”

Date Published: November 1, 2023