Thursday, March 14, 2013

Common Wrongful Conviction Factors

Mounira Al Hmoud over at the Blog of Legal Times, Tuesday morning, posted that a three-year study conducted by the Washington Institute for Public and International Affairs Research at American University, funded by the U.S. Justice Department's National Institute of Justice, identified 10 factors common in wrongful convictions, as opposed to cases in which innocent defendants were acquitted or had their charges dismissed before trial in a first-of-its-kind study, called "Predicting Erroneous Convictions: A Social Science Approach to Miscarriages of Justice," released March 11th.. [ 433 Pp. PDF ]

Jon Gould, a lawyer, social scientist, and director of the Washington Institute for Public and International Affairs Research, was the principal investigator of the project.

Ten factors were identified by Gould and his team, including the state's death penalty culture or "punitiveness," meaning the number of executions per population; the strength of the prosecution & defendant's case; whether the prosecution withholds evidence (commits Brady violations); forensic evidence errors; the age of the of defendant; the defendant's criminal history; intentional misidentifications; lying by non-eyewitnesses; and the use of family witnesses to testify on behalf of defendant.

"[T]he only way to establish what causes an erroneous conviction is to understand which factors are exclusive to erroneous convictions as against other sets of cases," Al Hmoud reported the study found. "Missing so far in the literature is a study that asks how the criminal justice system identifies innocent defendants in order to prevent erroneous convictions, though, according to Gould, prevention begins at the police station starting with the interrogation and investigation of alibis, which, if not conducted carefully, can lead to a 'perfect storm' of errors made worse by collective tunnel vision."

Gould also observed that a major talking point of contention would lie in the justice system's often not having a vehicle to investigate when an error occurs in a case how to try to prevent similar errors from occurring in other cases in the future. "Unlike airplane crashes where the National Transportation Safety Board moves in to investigate and reconstruct events in an effort to prevent future catastrophes," he said, "wrongful convictions have not often been investigated beyond case studies."

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