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The Politics of Wrongful Conviction Legislation

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 March 2021

William D. Hicks*
Appalachian State University, Boone, NC, USA
Kevin J. Mullinix
University of Kansas, Lawrence, KN, USA
Robert J. Norris
George Mason University, Fairfax, VA, USA
Corresponding Author: William D. Hicks, Appalachian State University, Boone, NC, USA Email:


Wrongful convictions are an increasing salient feature of criminal justice discourse in the United States. Many states have adopted reforms to mitigate the likelihood of wrongful convictions, discover errors, and provide redress in the wake of exonerations, yet we know little about why some are seemingly more committed to reducing such errors than others. We argue that public opinion is consequential for policy reform, but its effects are contingent on the electoral vulnerability of state lawmakers. We also suggest that advocacy organizations play a critical role in policy adoption. Incorporating data from all 50 states from 1989 to 2018, we investigate the adoption of five types of wrongful conviction reforms: (1) changes to eyewitness identification practices, (2) mandatory recording of interrogations, (3) the preservation of biological evidence, (4) access to postconviction DNA testing, and (5) exoneree compensation. Our results highlight a more nuanced view of how public opinion shapes policy.

Original Article
© The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of The American Political Science Association

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