Preventing Wrongful Convictions

prison_barsThe National Institute of Justice highlighted a recent study entitled, Predicting Erroneous Convictions:  A Social Science Approach to Miscarriages of Justice.  The study compared criminal cases in which innocent defendants were wrongfully convicted (but later exonerated) with criminal cases in which innocent defendants were acquitted or had their charges dismissed prior to trial.  The researchers attempted to determine what factors could lead to a wrongful conviction, rather than acquittal or dismissal of charges against an innocent defendant.  They discovered 10 significant factors that could lead to wrongful convictions:

  1. A younger defendant
  2. A defendant who has a prior criminal history
  3. A weak prosecution case
  4. Cases in which the prosecution withheld evidence from the defense
  5. Lying by a non-eyewitness (i.e. confidential informants)
  6. Unintentional witness misidentification
  7. Misinterpretation of forensic evidence at trial
  8. A weak defense/poor representation
  9. Defendant offered a family witness at trial
  10. A “punitive” state culture

In addition to the factors mentioned above, the researchers looked to determine whether “tunnel vision” might play a role.  “Tunnel vision” may occur when prosecutors, law enforcement, and other criminal justice professionals focus too much on building a case against a particular suspect while ignoring other evidence (whether intentionally or unintentionally) that support a different conclusion or outcome.

One thing that prosecutors, law enforcement, and criminal defense attorneys should be able to agree upon is that these factors should be closely examined in every case to avoid innocent defendants from having to face the possibility of a wrongful conviction.

(Image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/moosharella/7659465944/)

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