Far from being limited to adversarial systems, wrongful convictions also occur in continental Europe where most countries have an inquisitorial or a mixed criminal justice system.

In Germany, 85% of crimes committed in a year qualify as low-level. Despite – or precisely because of – their simplicity, minor crimes are at higher risk of leading to wrongful convictions.

Every fourth conviction is erroneous.

Ralf Eschelbach,
Former Judge at the Federal Court of Justice, Germany

In serious criminal cases, the court appoints a public defender if the suspect cannot afford the services of a defence lawyer.

Due to the high stakes of a potential conviction, they tend to be handled with particular care by criminal justice systems. And yet, mistakes represent more than a few exceptions.

On the other hand, criminal cases carrying minor penalties constitute the majority of a prosecutor’s workload. These cases are typically simpler and tend to be closed with minimal effort.

The causes of wrongful convictions are well-known and find fertile ground beyond the United States:

1. biased police investigation,

2. prosecutorial misconduct,

3. informant testimony,

4. mistaken eyewitness identification,

5. erroneous testimony,

6. false confession,

7. faulty forensic evidence,

8. inadequate legal counsel.