Societal perceptions of wrongful convictions
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In recent years wrongful convictions have received a considerable amount of research attention. This flourishing interest has resulted in a growing body of literature that aims to investigate this criminal justice phenomenon. Specifically, the current academic literature suggests that exonerees have reported feeling stigmatized; however, public perception research suggests that the public is actually supportive of exonerees. As very little research has been conducted on public perceptions of wrongful conviction—and on the views of community members, in particular—this thesis sought to further explore this topic using open-ended, structured interviews. In addition, the literature has been criticized for its lack of theory integration. Therefore, the results of this study have been interpreted in the context of Giddens‘ Structuration Theory. Indeed, public perception and support are important as they may influence policy changes and encourage the government to be more forthcoming when it comes to preventing wrongful convictions and helping exonerees post-conviction. Overall, results indicated that community members defined wrongful conviction as cases of factual innocence. They also had limited knowledge of wrongful conviction, leading some participants to believe that wrongful convictions were infrequent. Community members were also able to identify several factors that lead to wrongful convictions (e.g., mistaken eyewitnesses), felt that the criminal justice system did a fair job in light of wrongful convictions, and generally held positive views toward exonerees (e.g., believing that they should receive supportive services, such as financial compensation, job training, and apologies). Furthermore, results highlight that while community members acknowledge that exonerees likely experience stigmatization, the majority of participants did not personally express stigmatizing views.