Investigating Innocence: Comprehensive Pre-trial Defense Investigation to Prevent Wrongful Convictions - 2019
The inability of public defense systems to provide sufficiently zealous legal representation to indigent clients is a long-standing and pervasive problem in the United States. The issue of excessive caseloads for public defenders is much discussed and studied, while the relatively more extreme deficit of public defense investigators is rarely mentioned. University of California, Irvine Criminology, Law & Society graduate student Rosa Greenbaum's master thesis, drawn from a qualitative analysis of 366 cases listed in the National Registry of Exonerations in which Inadequate Legal Defense (ILD) was deemed a contributor to a wrongful conviction, found that investigative failures were far more frequent than other types of legal inadequacies in the Registry's ILD cases, appearing in 80.6% of cases, while trial errors were found in just 50.8% of these wrongful convictions. In 34.7% of cases, the failures were solely investigative. The larger implication is that the relative dearth of investigators in public defense systems is a problem deserving similar attention as the more commonly understood issue of too few lawyers handling too many cases.
The National Registry of Exonerations is a project of the Newkirk Center for Science & Society at University of California Irvine, the University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law. It was founded in 2012 in conjunction with the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law. The Registry provides detailed information about every known exoneration in the United States since 1989—cases in which a person was wrongly convicted of a crime and later cleared of all the charges based on new evidence of innocence. The Registry also maintains a more limited database of known exonerations prior to 1989.
We welcome new information from any source about exonerations already on our list and about cases not in the Registry that might be exonerations.