False rape claims have little impact on wrongful convictions – study

False rape allegations do not have a bearing on wrongful convictions a new study from Griffith University has found.

Lead author Dr Katie Hail-Jares from the Griffith Criminology Institute with colleagues from American University in Washington DC, have concluded that false rape allegations reduce the odds of a wrongful conviction by nearly 10 times.

In a new paper published in Justice Quarterly, the researchers compared case outcomes using a sample of 207 criminal cases involving innocent people who were wrongfully indicted. Within the American criminal justice system, indictment is the formal charging of a person for a crime.

Once indicted, the defendant was either wrongfully convicted for sexual assault or saw the charges against them dismissed on the grounds of actual innocence. These latter cases are called “near misses”.

“Most of the research on false rape allegations to date has focused on how often they occur,’’ Dr Hail-Jares said.

“We haven’t moved past this basic question to explore the criminal justice consequences.”

The team found 32 (15.5%) of the sample cases involved a false rape allegation.However, there was a clear difference in case outcome.

Just four percent of the wrongful conviction cases stemmed from a false allegation, as opposed to an unintentional implication, such as mistaken identification or false confession.

Comparatively, 45.6% of the near misses emanated from a false allegation.

Next, the authors considered the impact of false rape allegations on case outcome when controlling for other factors, such as race and gender. Within this model, a false rape allegation was 10 time less likely to result in a wrongful conviction than a near miss.

These results, Hail-Jares suggests, indicate that false rape allegations are often detectable early into the investigation.

“False rape allegations do exist, but they are not a major factor in wrongful convictions.

“Continuing to focus on false rape allegations and how often they occur, without considering the outcomes, is the equivalent of a criminological dog whistle–it distracts all of us from addressing more serious structural breakdowns.”