The Five Most Famous Wrongful Conviction Cases in U.S. History

Free & Confidential Consultations

When the criminal justice system accuses or convicts a person of a crime they did not commit, it is a horrible miscarriage of justice.

These famous wrongful conviction cases are horrific and cause an innocent person and their loved ones immense harm, psychologically, financially, and physically.

Most importantly, they may strip the innocent of their freedom, sometimes forever. Here are five situations involving the wrongfully convicted—cases that demonstrate the worst of these situations.

If you have been charged with a crime in the San Diego area, the criminal defense lawyers at The Law Offices Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC are ready to help.

We use our skills, experience, and resources to give you the best possible chance of getting your case dismissed. 

To speak with a criminal defense lawyer in California, please contact us today online or call us at 619-304-2058.

1. The Central Park 5

The Central Park jogger case, also known as the Central Park Five case, resulted in the wrongful convictions of five young men of color from underprivileged backgrounds.

Their alleged crime was attacking and sexually assaulting a white woman who was jogging in New York City’s Central Park. 

The nature and location of the crime catapulted this case into the headlines. The media and city leaders placed immense pressure on the judicial system to hold someone accountable.

The police soon arrested five young men and charged them with the crime, despite a lack of concrete evidence.

Scared and, at times, threatened, most confessed. One young man later said he never spoke to his father again as his father told him to confess, so the police could help him, even though he told him he was innocent.

Ultimately, the scenarios turned to wrongfully convicted cases. The boys served sentences of many years before the judicial system finally exonerated them after someone else confessed to the crimes.

In later years, the men spoke of their harrowing ordeals, the trauma, and abuse they suffered during the process and in prison, and the toll being part of famous wrongful conviction cases still takes on them.

2. Henry and Leon McCollum 

Henry McCollum was 19 years old, and his brother Leon was 15 when law enforcement wrongfully charged them with a gruesome crime ending in the death of an 11-year-old.

The police interrogated them with no lawyer present for hours on end. 

The case never received the notoriety of some others, but many in the legal community consider it one of the worst wrongful conviction cases because it:

  • Contained apparent police misconduct;
  • Involved two young brothers;
  • Failed to find the true killer of a child at the time; and
  • Took three decades of life away from two very young men.

In 2014, after nearly 31 years in prison, the court exonerated the two brothers based on DNA evidence.

3. Duke University Lacrosse Team

The third spot on this troubling list goes to the Duke University Lacrosse Team. Duke University is an elite private institution known for a student body filled with students who are:

  • Academically strong,
  • From well-off families, and
  • Great athletes.

In the early 2000s, members of the men’s lacrosse team at the university were riding high. The team had been incredibly successful.

But the 2006 season was cut short when several Duke players were falsely accused of rape.

Like the Central Park 5, the Duke students were all teens or young men. The media coverage of the case was massive, and the public early on turned against the Duke athletes.

But the similarities between the cases end there. 

The Duke players were primarily members of well-connected families, and all immediately denied the allegations. Their families hired strong defense attorneys right away and fought back in the media.

While there clearly was evidence that a crime took place in the Central Park 5 case, there was no immediate definitive evidence of an assault in the Duke case.

As a result of solid legal representation and eventual scrutiny of the cases’ validity, the prosecutor dropped all charges against the young men. 

But the players had already been convicted in the court of public opinion, and the loss of their lacrosse season was the least of the impacts of these wrongfully accused cases.

The accused suffered ongoing public censure and doubt, emotional trauma, notoriety they did not ask for or deserve, and, for some, the inability to continue with their education at Duke. The trauma to them remains.

Wrongful Conviction Cases in California

With nearly 40 million residents, the most populated state in the United States is California.

It is also a popular state for tourists with wonderful beaches, movie stars, the Golden Gate Bridge, and beautiful cities such as San Diego.

However, like all states, California has its dark moments, including high profile wrongful conviction cases. Our 4th and 5th famous wrongful conviction cases perpetrated by the US justice system occurred in California.

4. Kimberly Long

It really does happen. A person can know the victim, find them injured or dead, report the crime, and then become the suspect of a murder investigation.

In Kimberly Long’s story, things then got even worse.

In 2003, Kimberly arrived home and discovered her boyfriend bludgeoned to death in the living room of the home they shared.

She immediately called 911. Then, the police charged her with the crime. She pleaded that the police were wrongfully accusing her.

The police did not believe her. They had a witness putting her at the scene, they said, and the case went to a California court. The first jury hung, and nine jurors were in favor of acquittal.

The second jury, after allowed a break from deliberations to celebrate Christmas, returned a guilty verdict.

Fast-forward 11 years. The justice system found that testimony from the prosecution’s star witness was unreliable.

And thanks to forensic pathology evidence, the correction’s system released her from prison after a wrongful conviction. Kimberly lost her partner and a decade of her life before justice was served.

5. Suzanne Johnson

Our fifth wrongful conviction case involves a child who died while in the San Diego home daycare of Suzanne Johnson. The law did not believe Suzanne’s version of an accidental fall causing the death or her calls for help.

Instead, the police turned the home into a crime scene, and the justice system wrongfully accused and then convicted Suzzane of killing the baby.

The court sentenced her to 25 years to life. She served 21 years before Governor Newsom finally granted her clemency.

The updated science of forensic pediatric pathology regarding the diagnosis of “shaken baby syndrome” indicated that Suzanne served over two decades for a crime she didn’t commit. 

Seeking Justice for Wrongful Convictions? Contact a California Criminal Defense Lawyer at The Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC Today

These five famous wrongful conviction cases highlight the profound impact that miscarriages of justice can have on individuals and their families. They underscore the necessity for vigilance, thorough investigation, and robust legal representation to ensure that the innocent are not wrongfully punished.

At The Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, we are dedicated to defending the rights of our clients and striving for justice in every case. If you or a loved one are facing criminal charges or believe you have been wrongfully convicted, contact us today for a consultation. Our experienced San Diego criminal defense law team is here to help you navigate the legal system and fight for your rights.

Where You Can Find Our San Diego Office

Author Photo

Kerry L. Armstrong


Attorney Kerry Armstrong opened up his law firm in June 2007. Mr. Armstrong attended Thomas Jefferson School of Law, San Diego, California, and received his B.S. from Middle Tennessee State University. Kerry L. Armstrong became certified by the State Bar of California’s Board of Legal Specialization for criminal law in August 2020, making him one of the few criminal defense attorneys with a criminal law legal specialization certificate in San Diego County.  Between 2014 – 2019, Mr. Armstrong was selected for inclusion in the California Super Lawyers list, an honor only awarded to 5% of the nation’s attorneys.