Miscarriage of justice

Miscarriage of justice

A miscarriage of justice is primarily the conviction and punishment of a person for a crime that he or she did not commit. The term can also be applied to errors in the other direction "errors of impunity" and to civil cases, but those usages are rarer, though the occurrences appear to be much more common. Most criminal justice systems have some means to overturn, or "quash", a wrongful conviction, but this is often difficult to achieve. The most serious instances occur when a wrongful conviction is not overturned for several years, or until after the innocent person has been executed or died in jail.

"Miscarriage of justice" is sometimes synonymous with wrongful conviction, referring to a conviction reached in an unfair or disputed trial. Wrongful convictions are frequently cited by death penalty opponents as cause to eliminate death penalties to avoid executing innocent persons. In recent years, DNA evidence has been used to clear many people falsely convicted.

Scandinavian languages have a word, the Norwegian variant of which is justismord, which is literally translated "justice murder". The term exists in several languages and was originally used for cases where the accused was convicted, executed, and later cleared after death. With capital punishment decreasing, the expression has acquired an extended meaning, namely any conviction of a person of a crime he/she did not commit. The retention of the term "murder" both demonstrates universal abhorrence against wrongful convictions and awareness of how destructive wrongful convictions are.

General issues

Causes of miscarriages of justice include:

  • confirmation bias on the part of investigators
  • withholding or destruction of evidence by police or prosecution
  • fabrication of evidence
  • biased editing of evidence
  • poor identification by witnesses and/or victims
  • overestimation/underestimation of the evidential value of expert testimony
  • contaminated evidence
  • faulty forensic tests
  • false confessions due to police pressure or psychological weakness
  • misdirection of a jury by a judge during trial
  • perjured evidence by the real guilty party or their accomplices (frameup)
  • perjured evidence by the supposed victim or their accomplices

The risk of miscarriages of justice is one of the main arguments against the death penalty. Where condemned persons are executed promptly after conviction, the most significant effect of a miscarriage of justice is irreversible; wrongly-executed people are nevertheless occasionally posthumously pardoned which is essentially a null action or have their convictions quashed. Many states that still practice the death penalty hold condemned persons for ten years or more before execution.

Even when a wrongly-convicted person is not executed, spending years in prison often has an effect on the person and their family that is irreversible and substantial. The risk of miscarriage of justice is thereby also a reasonable argument against long sentences, like life sentence, and cruel sentence conditions.

Cases in numerous countries


  • Colin Ross was pardoned on May 27, 2008, 86 years after his conviction and execution.
  • Darryl Beamish and John Button were convicted of murders committed by Eric Edgar Cooke in 1961 and 1963, respectively.
  • Ray, Peter, and Brian Mickelberg were convicted in 1983 of the Perth Mint Swindle. In 2002, Tony Lewandowski came forward and admitted the police had framed the brothers.
  • Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton was convicted in 1982 for the murder of her 9 week-old daughter, Azaria, after claiming that the baby had been taken off by a dingo. In 1988, her conviction was overturned and she was released from prison.
  • Andrew Mallard was convicted for the murder of jeweler Pamela Lawrence in 1994 after eight unrecorded hours of police interrogation and a brief recorded "confession" that followed. In 2005, the High Court of Australia was advised that the prosecution and/or police had withheld evidence which showed his innocence, and overturned his conviction. As such, Mallard was released from prison. A "cold case" review of the murder conducted after Mallard's release implicated one Simon Rochford as the actual offender and Mallard was exonerated.
  • Salvatore Fazzari, Jose Martinez, and Carlos Pereiras were convicted in 2006 for the murder of Phillip Walsham in 1998. The conviction was overturned by the Western Australian Court of Appeal in 2007 on the grounds that the verdicts of the guilty were unreasonable and could not be supported on the evidence.
  • Roseanne Catt was convicted in 1991 on 9 counts including attempted murder of her husband Barry Catt. She was arrested after she had agreed to assist the Department of Family and Community services in the prosecution of her husband for molesting his children (her stepchildren). The detective leading the investigation (Peter Thomas) was a business associate of Barry Catt and had had a previous antagonistic relationship with Roseanne Catt. The investigation was carried out from the home of a friend of Barry Catt rather than from the local police station. The crown prosecutor was Patrick Power who later pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography. In 2004, after an 18 month investigation by Judge Davidson, Ms Catt's appeals against seven of the nine convictions (including attempted murder) were upheld whereas the other two convictions were allowed to stand.


  • Robert Baltovich was convicted in 1992 of the murder of Elizabeth Bain; released in 2000 to prepare an appeal based on new evidence; although he has not been officially exonerated, the Crown has not pursued the case since his release; new evidence points to Paul Bernardo, an acquaintance of Ms Bain's, as her killer.
  • James Driskell, Canadian wrongfully convicted in 1991 of the murder of Perry Harder; his conviction was quashed and the charges stayed in 2005 due to DNA testing, but he has not been fully exonerated.
  • Donald Marshall, Canadian Míkmaq Aboriginal wrongfully convicted in 1971 of the murder of Sandy Seale; acquitted on appeal in 1983 after an additional witness to the murder came forward.
  • In 1969, David Milgaard, a 16-year old, was convicted and given a life sentence for the murder of 20-year old nursing aide Gail Miller. After 23 years of imprisonment, the Supreme Court of Canada allowed for the release of Milgaard. Five years later DNA testing proved his innocence.
  • Guy Paul Morin, Canadian wrongfully convicted in 1992 of the murder of Christine Jessop; he was exonerated by DNA evidence in 1995.
  • Thomas Sophonow, Canadian wrongfully convicted in 1981 of the murder of Barbara Stoppel; acquitted on appeal in 1985, and conclusively exonerated by DNA evidence in 2000.
  • Ronald Dalton, wrongfully convicted of murdering his late wife, Brenda Dalton in August 1988. It was later found that Brenda Dalton choked on cereal.
  • Steven Truscott's wrongful conviction of murder in the death of Lynne Harper stood for 48 years before finally being overturned August 28, 2007.
  • Jama Jama was charged with battering a police officer, but later there was evidence found to prove that in fact the officer was the one who assaulted Jama Jama. The police officer ended up losing his license.


  • Joan of Arc was executed in 1431 on charges of heresy. She was posthumously cleared in 1456.
  • Jean Calas from Toulouse was executed on March 10, 1762, for murder of his son Marc Antoine. The philosopher Voltaire, convinced of his innocence, succeeded in reopening of the case and rehabilitation of Jean in 1765.
  • Alfred Dreyfus was wrongly convicted for treason in 1894. After being imprisoned on Devil's Island, he was proven innocent with the assistance of Émile Zola and definitively rehabilitated only in 1906. See the Dreyfus affair.
  • In 2005, thirteen people were finally proven innocent of child molestation after having served four years in prison. A fourteenth died in prison. Only four people were proven guilty. This infamous case, which has deeply shaken the public opinion, is known as the "Affaire d'Outreau", the Outreau case, from the name of the city where these people lived, in the north of France.


  • Pietro Valpreda, an anarchist condemned for the 1969 Piazza Fontana bombing, was finally found innocent sixteen years later. He was framed since it was planned to blame the crime on the radical Left, while it was committed by Neo-Fascist groups as the first step of the strategy of tension.
  • Enzo Tortora, a popular anchorman on national RAI television, was arrested in 1983 and held in jail for months after trumped up charges by several pentiti of the Camorra and other people already known for perjury. It was soon noted that this was most likely a wrong identification with a man bearing the same surname (meaning "turtledove"), but the pentiti kept on accusing Tortora of the gravest offenses related to drug dealing. He was sentenced to ten years in jail in his first trial held in 1985, being spared further incarceration only thanks to the providential intervention of the Radical Party who offered him a candidacy to the European Parliament, a place Tortora won in a landslide as the country divided between those who held him guilty and those who held him innocent. He was completely acquitted and rehabilitated in 1986; he returned the next year to his work in tv, to a moving comeback in his "Portobello" show, to die in 1988 from cancer and become an icon of injustice and a perpetual reminder of the gravest public blunder of the Italian judiciary system.
  • Daniele Barillà, an entrepreneur mistakenly identified as a major drug cartel boss in Milan, spent more than 7 years in jail in 1992-1999, despite growing evidence of his complete innocence and non-involvement in any criminal activity. To this day, the Italian state hasn't awarded him any compensation.



  • Sakae Menda was convicted for a double murder in 1948 and was sentenced to death, but was cleared in 1983 after further evidence backing up his alibi came to light.
  • Hiroshi Yanagihara was convicted of rape and attempted rape, but the true culprit, Eiichi Otsu, was arrested after Yanagihara's release. Otsu was charged with 14 rapes and Yanagihara was cleared by retrial in 2007. Otsu was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

The Netherlands

  • The Schiedammerpark murder case (2000): Cees Borsboom was released in December 2004 after serving four years in prison of a sentence of 18 years for a murder in June 2000 of a 10-year old girl in a Schiedam park. He was released after Wik Haalmeijer confessed to the murder. This confession was confirmed by DNA evidence on the victim and the description of the attacker given to the police by another victim, Maikel, who narrowly survived the attack. Investigation of the manner the prosecution acted in this case revealed that the police and the public prosecutor made substantial mistakes, ignored relevant information, and brutalized (strangulation during police interrogation) the 11-year old victim Maikel. Minister of Justice Piet Hein Donner had to take all responsibility. In September 2005, he survived a no-confidence motion in parliament but did set up the Posthumus I and Posthumus II committees. The state of the Netherlands paid Cees Borsboom € 600.850,- compensation and the parents of Maikel an unknown amount.
  • The Putten murder case (1994): in this case, the 23-year-old stewardess Christel Ambrosius was found murdered in her grandmother's house, which was remotely located in the Veluwe. The police arrested four men who had been in those woods that weekend. Even though sperm found didn't match the DNA of any of the four men, Wilco Viets and Herman Dubois were convicted to 10 years' imprisonment anyway, of which they'd serve two thirds for good behavior. In April 2002, the Dutch high council (Supreme court) declared both men innocent, shortly after they had completed their sentences. Another suspect was apprehended in May 2008, based on a DNA match.
  • The Posthumus committees: the Schiedammerpark murder case, as well as the similarly overturned case of the Putten murder, led to the installation of the "Posthumus I committee", which analyzed what had gone wrong in the Schiedammerpark Murder case, coming to the conclusion that confirmation bias led the police to ignore and misinterpret scientific evidence (DNA). Subsequently, the so-called Posthumus II committee was set up to investigate whether more of such cases might have occurred. The committee received 25 applications from concerned and involved scientists, and decided to take three of them into further consideration: the Lucia de Berk case, the Ina Post case, and the Enschede incest case. In these three cases, confirmation bias and misuse of complex scientific evidence is claimed by independent researchers (professors Wagenaar, van Koppen, Israëls, Crombag, Derksen) to have led to miscarriages of justice.
  • Other potential cases: there are also continuing attempts by concerned scientists to get the well-known Deventer murder case, the Overzier murder case, the butler case, the Epe incest case, and the Kevin Sweeney case reopened.

New Zealand

  • Arthur Allan Thomas, a New Zealand farmer, was twice convicted of the murders of Harvey and Jeanette Crewe on June 17, 1970. He spent 9 years in prison but was given a Royal Pardon, and was released and awarded $1 million compensation for wrongful convictions. A Royal Commission in 1980 showed the prosecution cases were flawed, and that police had deliberately planted a cartridge case in the Crewes' garden to use as evidence.
  • David Bain was convicted in 1995 of the murder of all five members of his family the previous year. After 13 years in prison, his convictions were finally overturned in 2007 by the Privy Council, who found that a substantial miscarriage of justice had occurred. He has been granted bail pending a retrial.
  • David Dougherty was convicted in 1993 on charges of abduction and the rape of an 11-year-old girl. After serving over 3 years in prison, he was acquitted in 1997 after new DNA evidence ruled him out. Compensation of over $800,000 was paid by the New Zealand Government and an apology given for the wrongful conviction. The real culprit, Nicholas Reekie, was later convicted of the crime.
  • Tania Vini, Macushla Fuataha, both 14, and 15 year-old Lucy Akatere were jailed for terms of up to two years for the aggravated robbery of a 16 year-old school girl who was viciously slashed and bashed by five teenage girls. The girls served seven months in prison before being released. The actions of the Police in their interviewing of the girls was shown to have been overbearing and deceitful. In overturning the convictions, Court of Appeal judge, Justice Gault, said the three girls had the court’s sympathy for the injustice that had wrongly sent them to prison. He went on to say the “investigation and the trial system failed in this case” and the wrongful conviction “raises questions of conduct by the police which is a serious matter and must be properly investigated”. The allegations center on the alleged misconduct of the then Detective Constable Trevor Franklin, with serious allegations of misconduct in relation to his tactics.
  • In 2000, a man, whose name is suppressed, was exonerated of allegations of indecent assault on his two sons, both then aged under 12 years. He was convicted in 1995 and spent 14 months in prison before the Court of Appeal quashed the conviction after both sons retracted their allegations. The allegations were withdrawn by the children within 48 hours of being made, but police failed to make those facts available to defense counsel and continued with the prosecution. Over half a million New Zealand Dollars was paid in compensation
  • Rex Haig was convicted in 1995 of the murder of Mark Roderique, a crew member on Haig’s fishing boat, Antares. The murder conviction was quashed by the Court of Appeal in August 2006, nearly two years after Haig’s release on parole having served a full sentence for the killing. Haig’s nephew, David Hogan, who claimed that he saw his uncle kill Mr Roderique, is now regarded by the Court of Appeal as a suspect for the murder, and, by at least one of the three Appeal Court Judges, as an ‘utterly unreliable’ witness.
  • Aaron Farmer served 2 years and 3 months in prison for the rape of a Christchurch woman before being exonerated by DNA evidence. At the time of Farmer's sentencing District Court Judge Murray Abbott criticized aspects of the police inquiry regarding disclosure of evidence and deficits in transcripts of a police video interview. Issues regarding analysis of samples submitted to Environmental Science and Research had not been followed through in a timely way, and no satisfactory explanation had been given why an identity parade had not been conducted. The Appeal Court highlighted that in a taped interview with Farmer, the detective gave the impression that DNA evidence implicated Farmer when it did not.


Despite Norway's international reputation, Norwegian police, courts and prison authorities have been criticized and convicted on several occasions by the European Court of Human Rights for breaking the principle of "innocent until proven guilty", the use of solitary confinement as a softening process in interrogation and the use of civil courts being used against cleared defendants as a mean of "salvaging" cases and partially label the person as a felon.

  • Per Kristian Liland, wrongfully convicted of murdering two of his friends in 1969. He was cleared in 1994. His case is known as The Liland Affair.
  • Fritz Moen was wrongfully convicted for separate murders of two 20-year old women in 1976 and 1977. He was cleared of one murder in 2004. After his death in March 2005, he was cleared of the second murder based on a reinvestigation of the case by Norway's Criminal Case Review Commission
  • Sveinung Rødseth was wrongfully convicted in 1981 for the murder of his 5-month old daughter. He was cleared in 1998.
  • Atle Hage was wrongfully convicted for incest to his two children in 1984. His wife accused him when the couple divorced. Hage committed suicide in 1987, his life in ruins after time in prison. In 1997 his two children, then 20 and 22, demanded the case be reopened, claiming that no molestation had taken place and that Hages wife had lied. Hage was cleared in 1998. Hages ex-wife, Ada Borthen, later made similar accusations against her new husband. She has never been charged for making false accusations.
  • The Bjugn-case 1992: Accusations of molestation of school children in the small town of Bjugn saw seven people placed under arrest and charged. One person was trialled but was cleared. Damages were was denied because the court felt that the accused had failed to prove his innocence. This decision was reversed by the European Court of Human Rights.
  • The Birgitte-case 1995: The murder of Birgitte Tengs sparked a huge investigation. The following year a cousin was arrested and charged. He was later cleared for the murder but was later sued in civil court and found liable for the unlawful death of Birgitte Tengs. This decision was later reversed by the European Court of Human Rights, and the Norwegian courts were convicted for human rights violations. Further investigation concluded that false confessions had been made under psychological pressure and extortion by the police.
  • Former Lagmannsretts judge Trygve-Lange Nielsen has worked with dedication to clear victims for wrongful incest convictions, himself responsible for numerous convictions from his own career as a judge. In 2004, 24 cases were solved as wrongful. Nielsen has stated that as many as 150 convictions or more probably are wrongful.


The Constitution of Spain guarantees compensation in cases of miscarriage of justice.

  • The case known as "El crimen de Cuenca" (the crime of Cuenca) where in 1910 two peasants were convicted of the murder of another peasant who had disappeared even though the body was never found. Some years later the disappeared peasant showed up again and proved the conviction was wrongful.
  • The so-called "Wanninkhof case" where Dolores Vazquez was convicted of the murder of Rocío Wanninkhof in 1999. Later DNA evidence exonerated her.


  • Joy Rahman, a man of Bangladeshi origin, was in 1994 wrongfully convicted to life imprisonment for the murder of an elderly lady. After almost nine years in prison, he was freed by the Svea Court of Appeal, and later awarded 8 million SEK, the highest compensation ever awarded to a person in Sweden for wrongful conviction. Joy Rahman used the money to found the Joy Rahman Welfare Foundation, which provides healthcare and micro-loans to poor people. On 29 March 2008, Joy Rahman was arrested in Bangladesh on suspicion of murder.

United Kingdom

England and Wales and Northern Ireland

In the United Kingdom a jailed person whose conviction is quashed may be paid compensation for the time they were incarcerated.

It was a notable problem that the parole system assumes that all convicted persons are actually guilty, and that it poorly handled those who are not. In order to be paroled, a convicted person was required to sign a document in which, among other things, they confessed to the crime for which they were convicted. Someone refusing to sign such a declaration of remorse ended up spending longer in jail than a genuinely guilty person would have. Some wrongly convicted people, such as the Birmingham Six, were refused parole for this reason. In 2005 the system changed in this respect, and a handful of prisoners started to be paroled without ever admitting guilt.

In the event of a "perverse" verdict that involves the conviction of a defendant who should not have been convicted on the basis of the evidence presented, English law has no means of correcting this error: appeals being based exclusively upon new evidence or errors by the judge or prosecution (but not the defense), or because of jury irregularities. It occurred fhowever in the 1930s when William Herbert Wallace was exonerated of the murder of his wife. There is no right to a trial without jury (except during the troubles in Northern Ireland when a judge or judges presided without a jury).

During the early 1990s there was a series of high-profile cases revealed to have been miscarriages of justice. Many resulted from police fabricating evidence, in order to convict the person they thought was guilty, or simply to convict someone in order to get a high conviction rate. The West Midlands Serious Crime Squad became notorious for such practices, and was disbanded in 1989. In 1997 the Criminal Cases Review Commission was established specifically in order to examine possible miscarriages of justice. However, it still requires either strong new evidence of innocence or new proof of a legal error by the judge or prosecution. For example, merely insisting you are innocent and the jury made an error, or stating that there was not enough evidence to prove guilt, is not enough. It is not possible to question the jury's decision or query on what matters it was based. The waiting list for cases to be considered for review is at least two years on average. See, for example:

Other miscarriages include:

  • Robert Green, Henry Berry and Lawrence Hill were hanged in 1679 at Greenberry Hill on false evidence for the unsolved murder of Edmund Berry Godfrey.
  • Adolph (or Adolf) Beck, whose notorious wrongful conviction in 1896 led to the creation of the Court of Criminal Appeal.
  • William Herbert Wallace who was convicted of murdering his wife, but the conviction was overturned by the Court of Criminal Appeal in 1931.
  • Walter Graham Rowland was tried for a murder in Manchester and hung in 1947, despite poor identification evidence and a confession from another.
  • Timothy Evans' wife and young daughter were killed in 1949. Evans was convicted of killing of his daughter and hanged. It was later found that the real murderer was John Reginald Halliday Christie, another tenant in the same house, who eventually killed six women. Evans was the first person in Britain to receive a posthumous free pardon.
  • Derek Bentley, executed for murdering a police officer. The charge was based on the fact that during a police chase, he shouted to an armed friend 'Let him have it'. The case is often said to be a miscarriage of justice, and the verdict was overturned half a century later. It should be noted, however, that the grounds for overturning the verdict was that the trial had not been fair, due to various procedural defects. Had Bentley still been alive, there would certainly have been a retrial; he was not pronounced innocent by the Court of Appeal.
  • Stephen Downing was convicted of the murder of Wendy Sewell in a Bakewell churchyard in 1973. The 17-year-old had a reading age of 11 and worked at the cemetery as a gardener. The police made him sign a confession that he was unable to read. The case gained international notoriety as the "Bakewell Tart" murder. After spending 27 years in prison, Stephen Downing was released on bail in February 2001, pending the result of an appeal. His conviction was finally overturned in January 2002.
  • John Joseph Boyle aged 18 was convicted under the pretenses of an alleged confession at Belfast City Commission on 14 October 1977 of possession of firearms and ammunition with intent to endanger life, and membership in the I.R.A. He was sentenced to ten years in prison on the first count, and to two years in prison on the second count, the terms to run concurrently. A suspended sentence of two years imprisonment imposed for a previous offense was also invoked, making a total of twelve years in prison. When released he underwent a long fight to prove his innocence. In 2003, his conviction was quashed but he has been denied compensation.
  • Andrew Evans served more than 25 years for the murder of 14-year-old Judith Roberts. He confessed to the 1972 murder after seeing the girl's face in a dream. His conviction was overturned in 1997.
  • In 1974 Judith Ward was convicted of murder of several people caused by a number of IRA bombings 1973. She was finally released in 1992.
  • The Birmingham Six were fraudulently convicted in 1975 of planting two bombs in pubs in Birmingham in 1974 which killed 21 people and injured 182. They were finally released in 1991.
  • The Guildford Four were wrongly convicted in 1975 of being members of the Provisional IRA and planting bombs in two Guildford pubs which killed four people. They served nearly 15 years in prison before being released in 1989. (See Tony Blair's apology under The Maguire Seven below.)
  • The Maguire Seven were convicted in 1976 of offences related to the Guildford and Woolwich bombings of 1974. They served sentences ranging from 5 to 10 years. Giuseppe Conlon died in prison. Their convictions were quashed in 1991. On February 9, 2005, British Prime Minister Tony Blair issued a public apology to the Maguire Seven and the Guildford Four for the miscarriages of justice they had suffered. He said: "I am very sorry that they were subject to such an ordeal and such an injustice. They deserve to be completely and publicly exonerated."
  • Stefan Kiszko was convicted in 1976 of the sexual assault and murder of an 11-year old Lesley Molseed in 1975. He spent 16 years in prison before he was released in 1992, after a long campaign by his mother. He died of a heart attack the following year at the age of 41. His mother died a few months later. In 2007, Ronald Castree, of Shaw, near Oldham, was found to have the same DNA as Lesley's attacker and was convicted at Bradford Crown Court. He was sentenced to life imprisonment.
  • The Bridgewater Four were convicted in 1979 of murdering Carl Bridgewater, a 13-year-old paper boy who was shot on his round when he disturbed robbers at a farm in Staffordshire. Patrick Molloy died in jail in 1981. The remaining three were released in 1997.
  • The Cardiff Three, Steven Miller, Yusef Abdullahi, and Tony Paris were falsely jailed for the murder of prostitute Lynette White, stabbed more than 50 times in a frenzied attack in a flat above a betting shop in Cardiff's Butetown area on Valentine's Day 1988, in 1990 and later cleared on appeal. In 2003, Jeffrey Gafoor was jailed for life for the murder. The breakthrough was due to modern DNA techniques used on evidence taken from the crime scene. Subsequently, in 2005, 9 retired Police Officers and 3 serving Officers were arrested and questioned for false imprisonment, conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and misconduct in public office.
  • Peter Fell, a former hospital porter, described in the media as a "serial confessor" and a "fantasist", was sentenced to two life terms in 1984 for the murder of Ann Lee and Margaret "Peggy" Johnson, who were killed whilst they were out walking their dogs in 1982. His conviction was overturned in 2001.
  • Sally Clark was convicted in 1996 of the murder of her two small sons Christopher and Harry, and spent 3 years in jail, finally being released in 2003 on appeal. The convictions were based solely on the analysis of the deaths by the Home Office Pathologist Alan Williams, who failed to disclose relevant information about the deaths, and backed up by the paediatric professor Sir Roy Meadow, whose opinion was pivotal in several other child death convictions, many of which have been overturned or are in the process of being challenged. In 2005 Alan Williams was found guilty of serious professional misconduct and barred from practicing pathology for 3 years. In July 2005 Meadow was also removed from the Medical Register for serious professional misconduct and prohibited from practicing medicine. Sally Clark became an alcoholic as a result of her ordeal and died of alcohol poisoning in 2006.
  • Angela Cannings also jailed wrongly for 4 years on the now discredited evidence of Sir Roy Meadow. Angela was later stalked by a jail inmate she befriended, and the strain of the wrongful conviction destroyed her marriage.
  • Donna Anthony, 25 at the time, was wrongly jailed in 1998 for the death of her 11 month old son, and finally released in 2005, also because of the opinion of Sir Roy Meadow.
  • The Gurnos Three, also known as the Merthyr Tydfil Arson Case (Annette Hewins, Donna Clarke and Denise Sullivan). Wrongly convicted of the arson attack on the home of Diane Jones, aged 21, in October 1995. Someone had torn away part of the covering of her front door and poured in petrol to start the fire. The fire spread so rapidly that Ms Jones and her two daughters, Shauna, aged two and Sarah-Jane, aged 13 months, were all killed. The convictions of Ms Hewins and Ms Clarke were quashed at the Court of Appeal in February 1998 and a retrial ordered in the case of Ms Clarke.
  • Michelle and Lisa Taylor, wrongly convicted for the murder in 1991 of Alison Shaughnessy, a bank clerk who was the bride of Michelle's former lover. The trial was heavily influenced by inaccurate media reporting and deemed unfair.
  • Paul Blackburn was convicted in 1978 when aged 15 of the attempted murder of a 9-year old boy, and spent more than 25 years in 18 different prisons, during which time he maintained his innocence. He said he had never considered saying he was guilty to secure an earlier release because it was a matter of "integrity". He was finally released in May 2005 when the Court of Appeal ruled his trial was unfair and his conviction 'unsafe'.
  • The Cardiff Newsagent Three, Michael O'Brien, Darren Hall and Ellis Sherwood, were wrongly convicted for the murder of a newsagent, Phillip Saunders. On October 12, 1987 Mr Saunders, 52, was battered with a spade outside his Cardiff home. The day's takings from his kiosk had been stolen, and five days later he died of his injuries. The three men spent 11 years in jail before the Court of Appeal quashed the conviction in 1999. The three have since been paid six figure compensation, but South Wales Police had still not apologised or admitted liability for malicious prosecution or misfeasance.
  • Andrew Adams, wrongly convicted of the murder of a retired teacher. His conviction was finally quashed on 12 January 2007, after spending 14 years in jail.
  • David Carrington-Jones was released on October 16, 2007 , after spending 6 years in jail for a rape he did not commit, having been previously found guilty on two counts of rape and sexual assault against a pair of teenage sisters in December 2000. One of the accusers subsequently admitted to police she made up the allegations against her stepfather Mr Carrington-Jones because she 'did not like him'. It has transpired that the girl had previously made up other allegations of rape against her brother, fiancée, stepfather and even a customer at her work, but the jury was not told of this, and Mr Carrington- Jones was sentenced to a ten-year jail term at Lewes Crown Court. He was later refused parole hearings because he refused to admit his guilt. Mr Carrington-Jones is said to be discussing claiming compensation.
  • Barry George was cleared on 1 August 2008 of murdering Jill Dando after a retrial in which police were unable to rely on discredited forensic evidence.
  • Kenny Richey, a UK citizen, spent 21 years on Death Row in the US falsely convicted of starting a fire that killed Cynthia Collins, 2 years old. The conviction was reduced to theft and he was released in 2008, after three attempts to execute him failed.
  • Colin Stagg falsely imprisoned for the murder of Rachel Nickell on Wimbledon Common, London in 1992, but cleared in 1994.The case was thrown out on the grounds that police had used a "honey trap" plot in a bid to encourage him to confess. On 28 November 2007, Robert Napper was charged with her murder on the basis of new DNA evidence.

Errors of impunity

  • John Bodkin Adams, is a particularly notable case when a man was acquitted when he may, now with access to archives, be considered to have been guilty in all likelihood. Adams was arrested in 1956 for the murders of Edith Alice Morrell and Gertrude Hullett. He was tried in 1957 and found not guilty of the first charge and the second was dropped via a Nolle prosequi, an act which the presiding judge, Lord Justice Patrick Devlin, later termed "an abuse of power". Police archives, opened in 2003, suggest that evidence was passed to the defense by the Attorney-General Reginald Manningham-Buller in order to allow Adams to avoid the death sentence, then still in force. Home Office pathologist Francis Camps suspected Adams of killing 163 patients in total. Adams was only ever fined for minor offences and struck off the medical register for four years.


Reflecting Scotland's own legal system, which differs from that of the rest of the United Kingdom, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) was established in April 1999. All cases accepted by the SCCRC are subjected to a robust and thoroughly impartial review before a decision on whether or not to refer to the High Court of Justiciary is taken.

United States

Province of Massachusetts Bay

  • Salem witch trials, malicious gossip gone awry resulted in the killing of 19 innocent people before the sentences were overturned (1692).

After independence

  • May 1886; Chicago, Haymarket Riot: eight anarchist labor activists sentenced for a bomb explosion during a demonstration.
  • 1920; Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, two Italian anarchists, tried and sentenced to death for the killing of two people during a robbery in 1920. In 1977, Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis issued a proclamation stating that Sacco and Vanzetti had not been treated justly and that "any disgrace should be forever removed from their names."
  • 1923; Marcus Garvey
  • 1931; Scottsboro Boys
  • 1937; Isidore Zimmerman, was imprisoned from 1937 to 1962 for a murder he did not commit. 21 years later the New York Court of Claims awarded him $1,000,000 for his ordeal. He died 4 months later, after having spent 24 of his 66 years in prison. Zimmerman had his death penalty commuted to a life term just hours before he was scheduled to be electrocuted (he willingly sought execution because of the intense psychological torture of being on death row).
  • 1949; Iva Toguri D'Aquino was convicted of treason for allegedly being the notorious 'Tokyo Rose', when federal prosecutors knew she was innocent. Based on the proof of her innocence, President Gerald Ford pardoned her in January 1977.
  • 1954; Dr. Sam Sheppard, American convicted in 1954 of killing his wife in their home; Sheppard maintained she had been killed by an intruder, appealed his case to the Supreme Court. After serving ten years in prison, he was granted a new trial and was finally acquitted. A television series and film (both titled The Fugitive) are widely believed to have been inspired by his story.
  • 1961; Clarence Earl Gideon who was convicted in 1961 of robbery, successfully argued in the Supreme Court in the case Gideon v. Wainwright that his trial was unfair due to his lack of an attorney because of his inability to pay for one. He was given a retrial in 1963 with a free public defender and was acquitted.
  • 1965; Peter Limone, Joseph Salvati and the families of the two other men who died in prison were awarded $101.7 million as compensation for framing by the FBI.
  • 1976; Robert Wilkinson, PennsylvaniaPhiladelphia County, 1976: police beat him into signing a confession and intimidated witnesses to identify him. He was convicted of arson and murder and sentenced to five consecutive life terms. He was released later in the year after the actual perpetrators were convicted in federal court. The charges were refilled in 1977; indictments dismissed three months later. A federal court ruled prosecutor David Berman ignored, withheld and/or destroyed exculpatory evidence the actual perpetrators came to him and confessed. In dismissing Wilkinson's later indictment, the court ruled the prosecution was being maintained in bad faith. Prosecutors still insist he is guilty.
  • 1976; Randall Dale Adams convicted of the 1976 murder of police officer Robert Wood in Texas largely due to testimony from David Ray Harris, who was later executed for a similar murder. Errol Morris' film, The Thin Blue Line explored his case and caused a closer examination, resulting in his release after 12 years in prison 4 of them on death row.
  • 1979; Gary Dotson, was the first person whose conviction (in 1979) was overturned because of DNA evidence, in 1989.
  • 1981; Clarence Brandley, Montgomery County, Texas, was convicted of capital murder in 1981. In 1989, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned Brandley's conviction, finding that police and prosecutors, including James Keeshan, failed to investigate leads pertaining to other suspects, suppressed evidence placing other suspects at crime scene at time of crime, failed to call a witness who didn't support the state's case, allowed the perjured testimony of a witness to go uncorrected, and failed to notify Brandley that another man later confessed to the crime.
  • 1982; Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz, Pontotoc County, Oklahoma, were intimidated by police into confessions for the 1982 rape and murder of Debra Sue Carter and convicted. In 1999, DNA evidence exonerated them.
  • 1983; John Gordon Purvis, Broward County, Florida, a severely mentally ill person, despite no physical evidence that he was even at the scene of the murder, was intimidated by police into confessing to the murder of Susan Hamwi and her daughter in 1983.Later, investigators found that Paul Hamwi, Susan Hamwi's ex-husband, had hired Robert Wayne Beckett Sr. and Paul Serio to murder Susan Hamwi and Purvis was exonerated in 1993.
  • 1984; Darryl Hunt, convicted in 1984 of the rape and murder of Deborah Sykes, spent 19 years in prison, 9 of which were served after DNA evidence indicated that he did not commit the rape. Since Hunt was an African American, the case was heavily charged with the topic of race relations.
  • 1984; Juan Roberto Melendez-Colon was wrongly convicted of the Florida murder of Delbert Baker. He spent over 17 years on Death Row and was released from prison on January 3, 2002.
  • 1992; Joshua Rivera, 36, was sentenced 37 years for a 1992 murder. On September 19, 1992, Leonard Aquino was in front of a building and was approached by a couple of men who spoke briefly, then opened fire. Mr. Aquino was killed; another man, Paul Peralta, was shot, but survived. Rivera was known to people in the building and had a conviction for gun possession. He was charged and convicted of the crime. In 2006 Jaime Acevedo confessed he drove the real killer to the murder scene, and that Rivera was not involved. Prior to a court decision, Rivera accepted a plea agreement where he pled no contest to manslaughter.
  • 1999; The Tulia incident, in which 46 people, forty who were African-American, were arrested on a drug sting under undercover officer Tom Coleman. Despite the lack of credible evidence, many pled guilty to receive lesser sentences believing they would not receive a fair trial (those convicted received harsher sentences). Further investigations and other evidence led to the release of most of the "Tulia 46" by 2004, who were further compensated a total of $6,000,000 collectively to avoid further litigation.


  • Dwayne Allen Dail, jailed for 18 years in a child rape case, was released from prison after new DNA testing cleared him of the crime.
  • Derrick Bell, who was serving 12 1/2 to 25 years in prison for the robbery and shooting of Brentonol Moriah in Brooklyn in 1996, had his conviction vacated.
  • Claude McCollum, convicted for murder and rape in 2005, had his conviction overturned.
  • Charles Dubbs, convicted for two sexual assaults, was set free after another inmate confessed to committing the crimes.
  • Steven Phillips, sent to prison for a 1982 rape and burglary, was found to be wrongly convicted.
  • Richard L. Kittilstad, sentenced to ten years prison sentence in 2001 for soliciting prostitution, had his conviction overturned.
  • Ronald Gene Taylor was set free after DNA cleared him in a 1982 gang rape in Dallas County.
  • John White was released from prison after a DNA test cleared him of rape.
  • Marcus Lyons was cleared of rape by DNA evidence.
  • Floyd Brown, held since 1993 in a mental institution without trial for beating Katherine Lynch to death, was released after all charges against him were dropped
  • Martin Tankleff was released from prison and his 1990 conviction quashed after new evidence cast doubt on the police tactics and methods used to gather evidence. He was originally convicted of killing his parents, but new, unspecified, evidence cast serious enough doubt on that to cause an Appeal Court to quash the conviction.


  • A Colorado judge ordered on January 22, 2008, the immediate release of Tim Masters. DNA research by Richard Eikelenboom from Independent Forensic Services in Nunspeet disproved his connection with the death of Peggy Hettrick in 1987 in Fort Collins.
  • David Scott was released from prison after DNA evidence determined he was not the man who killed 89-year-old Loretta Keith of West Terre Haute.
  • Kennedy Brewer was exonerated of a 1992 rape and murder of a 3-year-old child after spending 15 years behind bars.
  • Lynn DeJac, convicted of killing daughter, was exonerated after a judge overturned her conviction based on new DNA evidence implicating her former boyfriend in the killing.
  • Rachel Jernigan, convicted of bank robbery in 2001, was released from prison after another woman confessed to the crime.
  • Willie Earl Green, sent to prison in 1983 for the murder of a woman, was released after a change in testimony.
  • Robert Gonzales, a mentally retarded man who falsely confessed to the slaying of an 11-year-old girl in 2005 was released from jail Friday after a national database matched DNA in the case to another man in custody for another crime.
  • Patrick Waller, who was convicted for a robbery in which four people were abducted and a woman was raped, has been exonerated.
  • Raymond H. Jonassen spent four months in jail based on information that turned out to be false.
  • Dean Cage was exonerated of a rape conviction after 14 years in prison.
  • Walter Swift was wrongly convicted of raping a pregnant Detroit woman in 1982.
  • Levon Junior "Bo" Jones, sentenced to death for the 1987 murder and robbery of Leamon Grady, was released after nearly 15 years in prison.
  • James Lee Woodard was released from prison after DNA tests and changes in witness testimony proved that he did not rape and murder his 21-year-old girlfriend in 1980.
  • Cynthia Sommer, convicted of killing her Marine husband with arsenic to pay for breast implants, was cleared after new tests showed no traces of poison.
  • Thomas Clifford McGowan was freed after spending nearly 23 years in prison for a rape he did not commit.
  • Nathaniel Hatchett, who spent 12 years in prison for rape, was released after prosecutors decided to drop charges based on DNA evidence that shows he was not the rapist.
  • Glen Chapman, who spent 14 years on death row, was released after the District Attorney dismissed murder charges against him.
  • Guy Randolph was exonerated by a court judge after the district attorney's office acknowledged that he had been wrongly convicted.
  • Hattie Douglas's charge of murdering her 11-month-old son by poisoning him with alcohol was dismissed in May 2008. The murder charge was dropped after new tests cast doubt on the theory that the death of her son was caused by alcohol.

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