Presumed Innocent? The Social Science of Wrongful Convictions

开始时间: 06/24/2015 持续时间: 7 weeks

所在平台: Coursera

课程类别: 社会科学

大学或机构: Pennsylvania State University(宾夕法尼亚州立大学)

授课老师: Tim R Robicheaux



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According to the National Registry of Exonerations, a joint project of Michigan Law and Northwestern Law, over 1,300 individuals in the United States have been exonerated after being convicted for crimes they did not commit. These are the known cases of wrongful conviction—the actual number is much higher. Some of these individuals have served years, even decades, in prison for these crimes. Often, real offenders have escaped justice as a result of the wrong person being accused and convicted.

As noted, we will approach this topic from a social scientific perspective. Social science is a broad field that seeks to understand social interactions between individuals, groups, and institutions. The field includes academic disciplines such as sociology, criminology, psychology, economics, anthropology, political science, and other related disciplines. 

In this course we will explore wrongful convictions answering several key questions:

  • What do we mean by “wrongfully convicted,” and how common are wrongful convictions?
  • Who are wrongfully convicted?
  • Where in the criminal justice system do things go wrong to lead to wrongful convictions?
  • Why do wrongful convictions occur?
  • How can social science contribute to understanding, and preventing wrongful convictions?


Each week we will cover two lessons in the course. Each lesson, while related, will be considered independently.

Week One:
Introduction to the Criminal Justice System
Social Science and Public Policy: Due Process and Crime Control

Week Two:
Wrongful Conviction Defined 
Wrongful Conviction Demographics and Statistics

Week Three:
Wrongful Conviction and the Criminal Justice Process—Where do things go wrong?
Causes of Wrongful Conviction: Government Misconduct and Poor Defense

Week Four:
Causes of Wrongful Conviction: Eyewitness Misidentification—An Introduction
Causes of Wrongful Conviction: Eyewitness Misidentification—System Variables 

Week Five:
Causes of Wrongful Conviction: Eyewitness Misidentification—Estimator Variables
Causes of Wrongful Conviction: False Confessions

Week Six:
Causes of Wrongful Conviction: Jailhouse Snitches, Informants, and Poor Forensics
Myths and Misconceptions of Decision-Makers: Judges, Juries, and the Public

Week Seven:
Using Social Science to Prevent Wrongful Convictions
What can you do? 





The United States criminal justice system is typically an accurate and efficient system. Although, as a human creation, it is not perfect. This course will employ a social scientific perspective to understand why innocent people are sometimes convicted of crimes they did not commit. In this course we will discuss wrongful convictions, their causes, and their solutions.