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Award details

Evaluation of US wrongful convictions resulting in Execution (1977-present), Law School, PhD (Self-Funded) Ref: 4135

About the award

Research Project Summary:

This project, based in the Evidence-Based Justice Lab at the University of Exeter Law School, will systematically examine wrongful convictions in the United States in which a defendant who may have been innocent has been executed. It will draw on data from a preliminary study of 1,332 US executions since 1977, which has assembled comprehensive information on 206 cases that have a claim of innocence. The project will evaluate this data and surrounding literature in order to isolate and examine various causes of potential wrongful conviction among those executed, and to make appropriate suggestions for policy reform.

Project Description:

The Death Penalty is an ultimate example of government power over the individual, and decisions to impose the death penalty are among the most important legal decisions. However, relatively little is known about wrongful convictions of defendants who have been executed. This is because courts are unlikely to consider appeals once a defendant is deceased.

This project aims to provide new insight into claims of innocence among those who have already been executed. Specifically, the project will qualitatively and quantitatively examine data from a new project (the Post Mortem Project) which seeks to evaluate how many of the 1,332 people executed in the US since 1977 have a strong claim of innocence and what factors contribute to this, including race, quality of counsel, non-disclosure of evidence, police corruption, flawed social and forensic science, political pressures, etc.

Large quantities of data have already been assembled, and an initial repository has been created for analysis. The project will work towards a comprehensive coding and analysis of this data. The candidate may wish to conduct some field work in the US. The project is suitable for students of law, criminology, or research methods.

For more information about the project and informal enquiries, please contact the primary supervisor, Dr Rebecca Helm.


Entry requirements

You should have or expect to achieve at least a 2:1 Honours degree from a UK university, or equivalent, in Law, Criminology, or Research Methods. Experience in Criminal Justice or US Jurisprudence is desirable but not necessary.

If English is not your first language you will need to meet the English language requirements and provide proof of proficiency. Click here for more information and a list of acceptable alternative tests.

How to apply

You will be asked to submit some personal details and upload a full CV, covering letter and two academic references.

Your covering letter should outline your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to undertake this project.

You may also be asked to upload verified transcripts of your most academic qualification.

Closing date for applications is Monday 24th May 2021.

Interviews will be held online in June 2021.

Please quote reference 4135 on your application and in any correspondence about this project.

For general information about this project and the application process, please contact Postgraduate Research Admissions at


Application deadline:24th May 2021
Number of awards:1
Value:The project is self-funded and therefore applicants will need to find external funding sources to cover their tuition fees and living expenses.
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Admissions