CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Friday, July 12, 2013

Gould et al. on Innocent Defendants and Divergent Case Outcomes

Jon Gould Julia Carrano Richard A. Leo and Katie Hail-Jares (American University - School of Public Affairs , American University , University of San Francisco - School of Law and American University) have posted Innocent Defendants: Divergent Case Outcomes and What They Teach Us (in Marvin Zalman & Julia L. Carrano, eds., Making Justice: The Innocence Challenge to Criminal Justice Policy and Practice (Routledge / Taylor & Francis Group 2013)) on SSRN. Here is the abstract:

Why are some innocent defendants convicted and spend years in prison before exoneration ("erroneous convictions"), while others are released before trial or are acquitted on the basis of their factual innocence ("near misses")? What factors could have predicted these dramatically divergent outcomes? The authors seek to answer these questions using advanced statistical and comparative social science methodologies. This chapter reports the results from a large scale empirical research project that compares case outcomes following the indictment of 460 factually innocent defendants for a violent felony. Two hundred of these cases ended in a near miss, and the remaining 260 defendants were erroneously convicted. The authors conclude that a number of variables, including the age and criminal history of the defendant, the punitiveness of the state, Brady violations, forensic error, a weak defense and weak prosecution case, a family defense witness, a non-intentional misidentification, and lying by a non-eyewitness, can predict case outcome. Moreover, these individual factors are connected and exacerbated by tunnel vision, which prevents the system from self-correcting once an error is made and leads to general system failure. The authors conclude by suggesting reforms that will allow the legal community to improve its ability to justly adjudicate cases of innocent defendants in the future.

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