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LAW 8000 - Actual Innocence: Home

This guide was originally prepared for law students in a law school class on wrongful convictions. This guide is designed to provide a broad overview of information relating to wrongful convictions.

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This guide is designed to provide a broad overview of information relating to wrongful convictions. Practitioners and other students researching issues related to wrongful convictions, DNA testing, criminal law, forensics, and related issues may also find it useful. Please note that many of the research tools contained in this guide are national in scope, even though these same issues involve state specific laws and resources.


According to The National Registry of Exonerations, an exoneration occurs when "a person who has been convicted of a crime is officially cleared based on new evidence of innocence." A more precise definition follows:

"A person has been exonerated if he or she was convicted of a crime and, following a post-conviction re-examination of the evidence in the case, was either: (1) declared to be factually innocent by a government official or agency with the authority to make that declaration; or (2) relieved of all the consequences of the criminal conviction by a government official or body with the authority to take that action. The official action may be: (i) a complete pardon by a governor or other competent authority, whether or not the pardon is designated as based on innocence; (ii) an acquittal of all charges factually related to the crime for which the person was originally convicted; or (iii) a dismissal of all charges related to the crime for which the person was originally convicted, by a court or by a prosecutor with the authority to enter that dismissal. The pardon, acquittal, or dismissal must have been the result, at least in part, of evidence of innocence that either (i) was not presented at the trial at which the person was convicted; or (ii) if the person pled guilty, was not known to the defendant and the defense attorney, and to the court, at the time the plea was entered. The evidence of innocence need not be an explicit basis for the official action that exonerated the person. A person who otherwise qualifies has not been exonerated if there is unexplained physical evidence of that person's guilt."

Causes of wrongful convictions, according to the Innocence Project, may include eyewitness misidentification, unvalidated/improper forensics, false confessions/admissions, informants/snitches, government misconduct/prosecutorial misconduct, and bad lawyering/incompetent defense lawyering.


This research guide is a starting point for a law student or an attorney to research in the area of Wrongful Convictions. This guide should not be considered as legal advice or as a legal opinion on any specific facts or circumstances. If you need further assistance in researching this topic, please contact a reference librarian at the Vanderbilt University Alyne Queener Massey Law Library or consult an attorney.

Additional Research Guides


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Sarah Dunaway