Crime, Law and Social Change

, Volume 53, Issue 3, pp 259–275 | Cite as

Framing innocents: the wrongly convicted as victims of state harm

  • Saundra D. Westervelt
  • Kimberly J. Cook


We adapt the victimology of ‘state harms’ framework outlined by Kauzlarich et al. (Critical Criminology, 10(3), 173–194, 2001) to understand the post-exoneration experiences of 18 death row exonerees. Kauzlarich et al. develop six points of commonality shared by most victims of state crime. Application of this framework to death row exonerees highlights the role the state plays in creating and exacerbating the harms they suffer. This analysis also lays a foundation for further theoretical inquiry into the wrongful conviction of the innocent as a form of state crime.


State Official State Crime Tunnel Vision Wrongful Conviction False Confession 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We would like to thank the following for their contributions to the completion of this manuscript: Ray Michalowski, who helped focus our ideas on the primary story we had to tell; Amy Ernstes, who gathered research on state crime; our colleagues at Griffith University and Australian National University in Australia for comments on early versions of the paper; and the anonymous reviewers. This paper was first presented to participants in the “State Crime in the Global Age” conference in Oñati, Spain, May 2008. We thank all conference participants for their contributions. We also are grateful for Michael Radelet’s support and guidance. Mostly, we thank the generosity of our research participants for trusting us with their stories. Funding for this research has been provided by: the External Proposal Development Incentive Program, Office of the Associate Provost of Research, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and the American Sociological Association’s Fund for Advancement of the Discipline Award supported by the American Sociological Association and the National Science Foundation.


  1. 1.
    Castelle, G. (1999). Lessons learned from the ‘Fred Zain affair’. The Champion, 23, 12–16, 52–57.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Chambliss, W. (1989). State organized crime. Criminology, 27(2), 183–208.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Cook, K. (1998). Divided passions: Public opinions on abortion and the death penalty. Boston: Northeastern University Press.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Fisher, S. (1993). “Just the facts, ma’am”: lying and the omission of exculpatory evidence in police reports. New England Law Review, 28, 1–62.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Fishman, M. (1978). Crime waves as ideology. Social Problems, 25(4), 531–543.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Garland, D. (1990). Punishment and modern society: A study of social theory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Gershman, B. (1986). Why prosecutors misbehave. Criminal Law Bulletin, 22(2), 131–143.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Givelber, D. (2002). The adversary system and historical accuracy: Can we do better? In S. Westervelt & J. Humphrey (Eds.), Wrongly convicted: Perspectives on failed justice (pp. 253–268). Newark: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Green, B., & Ward, T. (2000). State crime, human rights: the limits of criminology. Social Justice, 27(1), 101–115.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Green, P. (2005). Disaster by design: corruption, construction and catastrophe. British Journal of Criminology, 45(4), 528–546.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Johnson, R. (1998). Death work: A study of the modern execution process. Belmont: West/Wadsworth.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Junkin, T. (2004). Bloodsworth. Chapel Hill: Algonquin.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Kauzlarich, D., Matthews, R., & Miller, W. (2001). Toward a victimology of state crime. Critical Criminology, 10(3), 173–194.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Kauzlarich, D., Mullins, C., & Matthews, R. (2003). A complicity continuum of state crime. Contemporary Justice Review, 6(3), 241–254.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Kramer, R., & Michalowski, R. (2005). War, aggression and state crime. British Journal of Criminology, 45(4), 446–469.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Lenning, E. (2007). Execution for body parts: a case of state crime. Comtemporary Justice Review, 10(2), 173–191.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Leo, R. (2008). Police interrogation and American justice. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Leo, R. (2007). Rethinking the study of miscarriages of justice: developing a criminology of wrongful conviction. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 21(3), 201–223.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Lofquist, W. (2002). Whodunit? An examination of the production of wrongful convictions. In S. Westervelt & J. Humphrey (Eds.), Wrongly convicted: Perspectives on failed justice (pp. 174–196). Newark: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Luscombe, B. (2001). When the evidence lies. Time, 13 May. Online.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Martin, D. (2002). The police role in wrongful convictions: An international comparative study. In S. Westervelt & J. Humphrey (Eds.), Wrongly convicted: Perspectives on failed justice (pp. 77–95). Newark: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Matthews, R., & Kauzlarich, D. (2007). State crime and state harms: a tale of two definitional frameworks. Crime, Law & Social Change, 48(1–2), 43–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Michalowski, R. (1985). Order, law, and crime. New York: Random House.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Neff, J. (2004). NC bar hearing provokes more anger. The News and Observer, 21 October.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Paternoster, R., Braeme, R., & Bacon, S. (2008). The death penalty: America’s experience with capital punishment. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Petersilia, J. (2003). When prisoners come home. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Protess, D., & Warden, R. (1998). A promise of justice. New York: Hyperion.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Radelet, M., Bedau, H., & Putnam, C. (1992). In spite of innocence. Boston: Northeastern University Press.Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Rosen, R. (1987). Disciplinary sanctions against prosecutors for Brady violations: Paper tiger. North Carolina Law Review, 65, 693–744.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Rothe, D., & Friedrichs, D. (2006). The state of the criminology of crimes of the state. Social Justice, 33(1), 147–161.Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    Scheck, B., Neufeld, P., & Dwyer, J. (2000). Actual innocence. New York: Doubleday.Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    Surette, R. (1992). Media, crime & criminal justice. Belmont: Wadsworth.Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    Walker, S. (1999). The police in America. Boston: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Ward, T. (2005). State crime in the heart of darkness. British Journal of Criminology, 45(4), 434–445.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. 35.
    Weinberg, S., Gordon, N., & Williams, B. (2006). Harmful error: Investigating America’s local prosecutors. Washington, DC: Center for Public Integrity.Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    Westervelt, S., & Cook, K. (2007). Feminist research methods in theory and action: Learning from death row exonerees. In S. Miller (Ed.), Criminal justice research and practice: Diverse voices from the field (pp. 21–38). Boston: University Press of New England.Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    Westervelt, S., & Cook, K. (2008). Coping with innocence after death row. Contexts, 7(4), 32–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. 38.
    Westervelt, S., & Humphrey, J. (2002). Wrongly convicted: Perspectives on failed justice. Newark: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    Westley, W. (1970). Violence and the police. Cambridge: MIT.Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    White, R. (2008). Depleted uranium, state crime and the politics of knowing. Theoretical Criminology, 12(1), 31–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. 41.
    Woolford, A., & Wolejszo, S. (2006). Collecting on moral debts: reparations for the holocaust and porajmos. Law & Society Review, 40(4), 871–902.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. 42.
    Zimmerman, C. (2002). From the jailhouse to the courthouse: The role of informants in wrongful convictions. In S. Westervelt & J. Humphrey (Eds.), Wrongly convicted: Perspectives on failed justice (pp. 55–76). Newark: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of North Carolina at GreensboroGreensboroUSA
  2. 2.University of North Carolina at WilmingtonWilmingtonUSA

Personalised recommendations