A: No, what it means is that some prosecutors in the past proceeded to court solely on the basis of identifications without corroborating physical evidence, mostly in cases of stranger-rape, and that they convinced the juries in those cases that the identification was valid, when later evidence shows that the identification was mistaken. New procedures whereby DNA exclusion takes place in the investigative phase mean that such convictions will be far fewer in the future, especially as prosecutors, judges and juries have become more aware of the prevalence of wrongful convictions in the prosecution of all crimes and are more guarded against the possibility.
The most common cause of wrongful convictions is eyewitness misidentification.
Gross, Jacob, Matheson, Montgomery and Patel, Exonerations in the United States 1989 through 2003, published 2004: p18, Section V Part 1: Rapes and Murders: Mistakes versus Lies (pdf)
In nearly all DNA exonerations there is NO evidence that the victims lied about being raped, just that later evidence has shown that the man originally convicted was not actually the perpetrator of the rape. Exonerations on evidence other than DNA in the USA account for only 14/120 rape exonerations in the period 1989-2003, 13 of those complaining witnesses were determined to have lied. (In the same time period regarding 199 murder exonerations, 43 eyewitnesses were found to have lied, 5 police officers to have committed perjury, 24 forensic scientists to have committed perjury, 94 civilian witnesses claiming knowledge of the crime were found to have lied, and 17 actual murderers lied to secure the defendant’s conviction.)
High rates of exoneration cases tend to cluster around particular prosecutors, and thus should not be extrapolated to apply generally.
Mr. Chatman’s exoneration, which must be approved by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, would mark the 15th time since a new testing law took effect in 2001 that a Dallas County conviction has been discredited by DNA.
Most of those faulty convictions occurred during the tenure of District Attorney Henry Wade, whose office had a national reputation for hard-nosed prosecution.
The majority of the wrongful convictions included lineups or eyewitness identifications that often were uncorroborated by other evidence.
No other county in the nation has had as many exonerations by DNA.
The low rate of rape complaints which actually go to trial, let alone secure a conviction, is such a small sample that it also complicates any simple extrapolation of trends from either conviction or exoneration data.
Innocent people should be set free, and the DNA exonerations of people wrongfully convicted of rape, murder or any other crime are applauded by all who believe in rights and liberty, including feminists. However, there is a big problem with this frequently asked/asserted idea that the exonerations mean that women lie about rape – this keeps on coming up in feminist discussions about acquaintance-rape and the issue of valid consent between people who have a pre-existing relationship as friends/colleagues/neighbours/dates.
Convicted so-called “date-rapists” are not being exonerated by DNA testing, because the defence in such cases is never that intercourse did not occur, the defence is always that the intercourse was consensual rather than coerced. Thus the accused’s DNA is expected to be present, and is irrelevant to the conviction. Therefore, to use DNA exonerations as a point of argument in any discussion of acquaintance-rape is simply invalid.
Thank you for this.
This isn’t true. In 13 out of 120 rape exonerations studied, the complainant was found to have lied. (PDF link. URL contains spaces so might not work.) .
Moderator note 27 January 2008: the FAQ has now been updated to reflect Daran’s correction
Daran, the PDF link didn’t work. Can you cite the study’s authors, or the URL of the index page which links to the PDF?
How exactly can one prove that the woman lied?
I have a very hard time believing that any of these women lied. They may have misidentified their attacker unintentionally. Very few rape cases are actually prosecuted for one reason or another. Few of those cases lead to convictions.
Daran links to an anti-feminist website. What’s the deal with that? Doesn’t that indicate a certain viewpoint?
Strange. That link no longer works. Try this one instead. Here’s Google Scholar. The figures I gave can be found on page 19.
The site I link to is my own. I’ve read the comments policy, and I understand that I’m allowed up to three comments here per day. My “viewpoint” is that we cannot make any legitimate inferences at all about false accusations from information about exonerations or DNA exclusions. In other words, I agree with the broad thrust of this FAQ. I’m simply making a factual correction here.
Daran, that study is a a study of all exonerations in the USA from 1989 through 2003 by any means. On the very first page it says that of the 328 exonerations studied, only 145 were exonerated on the basis of DNA evidence, 183 were exonerated by other means.
105/120 exonerated rape defendants were cleared on the basis of DNA evidence. (p.6)
On pages7- 8, it says:
This FAQ is only about DNA exoneration. None of the victims in the cases where DNA was the evidence that led to exoneration were found to have lied about the rape.
Addendum: I’ve added the word DNA again in the body of the post for clarification. This FAQ is about DNA because it is DNA that is Frequently Asserted.
This is still not true.
It seems very unlikely that all twelve of the false accusation cases given by Gross (excluding Dotson) were among the fifteen non-dna-based exonerations, but even if they are, your statement is misleading, since it implies that false accusations are not a factor in false convictions. They are, albeit a relatively minor one.
Dotson, exonerated in 1988, would not have been included in a study of cases 1989 through 2003, which was the evidence you supplied. From reading his case, the decision not to proceed to exoneration purely on the basis of the complaining witness’ recantation in 1985 seems perverse. He would never have had to have the DNA tested in 1988 if he had been exonerated in 1985 instead of released on parole. (of course, there was no DNA testing until 1987)
As to the unlikelihood of no DNA exonerations being also false accusations, the study gave the numbers. Since the only way to be sure that the complaining witness lied is a recantation, in which cases DNA evidence is not normally required (an unnecessary expense to the State), I don’t concede that you have refuted my claim.
I do note your point that false accusations are nonetheless a relatively minor factor in false convictions (a much smaller factor than false accusations in murder cases, the study shows). It will be interesting to see in future exoneration studies, based on more recent cases where DNA tests were standard parts of the investigative procedure before any trial, what the rates of false convictions for both mistaken identification and false accusation will be. I suspect that absolute numbers for both will drop precipitately as suspects are excluded without being charged, and future DNA exonerations will be about planted DNA and switched lab samples instead.
Daran, I don’t care if it’s your website. That doesn’t answer my essential point, which is that it is an anti-feminist website run by trolls and anti-feminists, including men who have harassed feminists online and endorsed others’ harassment of feminists.
Dotson was formally exonerated in August 1989, although the evidence which cleared him came to light a year earlier. He is included in that report. See pages 1 and 29.
Ginmar, even if your smears were true, they would still be ad hom with no relevance whatsoever to the matter at hand.
Daran, my bad. I missed his name when I read through the introduction.
The FAQ has now been updated to more accurately reflect the situation.