Collaborative Research: Exoneration and Compensation: The Role of False Confessions

Grant Details


Instances in which innocent individuals are wrongly convicted represent serious travesties of justice because the actual guilty offenders may go on to commit other, sometimes serious, crimes and the wrongly convicted innocents languish in prison for years (on average, over 13 years for serious crimes). The processes involved with exonerating innocent individuals of wrongful convictions is not well understood. Essential factors and aids necessary to facilitate these innocents' well-being and reintegration into society upon exoneration are even less understood. A growing body of research has demonstrated that, although all of these individuals are innocent, (a) the process to exoneration differs depending on the circumstances associated with the wrongful conviction (such as whether the person falsely confessed) and (b) the general public still perceives these individuals as not entirely innocent, not entirely deserving of reintegration aids such as job training and counseling, and less fit for office jobs. A better understanding of the processes involved with exoneration attempts and a deeper appreciation of the compensation and aids necessary to more fully make these innocent individuals whole is critical to informing and developing statutes and reforms that will facilitate their reintegration into society.

Although our legal system has witnessed a proliferation of exonerations for wrongful convictions across the last decade or two, the process leading to exoneration and the aftereffects of being exonerated are not well understood. Differences in the process leading to exoneration, types and degree of aid, and timeliness of receiving aids have all been documented. Given that innocent confessors suffer a series of cumulative disadvantages during their journey through the legal system, this project will examine the idea that innocent confessors have particularly onerous experiences. To address this idea, the project will use in-depth interviews with attorneys who have worked on exoneration cases, exonerees (who have and have not falsely confessed), and innocence advocates to examine structural-level (e.g., wrongful conviction in a compensation statute state or not; exonerated with assistance from an innocence project); case-level (e.g., false confession or not); and individual-level (e.g., exoneration status, race) factors that influence whether an exoneree receives no, partial, or full compensation, and the types of compensation to explore how these aids (or lack of) impact post-conviction well-being and reentry adjustment. The in-depth interviews are complemented with an experimental field study of thousands of employers in five locations, comparing their willingness to hire exonerees who did and did not falsely confess, guilty paroled offenders, and those with no criminal history. The findings have the potential to illustrate barriers to exoneree compensation, determine how receipt of compensation and aid (type and amount) can influence post-exoneration re-entry experiences, and causally demonstrate the obstacles exonerees face when attempting to find employment. The ultimate goal is to inform state and federal compensation statutes, leading states without statutes to adopt ones or states with statutes to revise their current ones—such as removing controversial restrictions around false confessions, including employment assistance to help exonerees better adjust, and other aids that many exonerees desire but rarely can access.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Effective start/end date06/1/2105/31/23


  • National Science Foundation: $192,500.00


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