CrimProf Blog

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

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Doyle on Wrongful Convictions

James M Doyle has posted Orwell's Elephant and the Etiology of Wrongful Convictions (Albany Law Review 2016, Forthcoming) on SSRN. Here is the abstract:

This article applies to wrongful convictions a general etiology, or manner of causation, frequently employed in aviation, medicine, and other safety-oriented, endeavors to analyze adverse outcomes and “near misses.” This “organizational accident” approach assumes that no event has a single cause but that small mistakes (none independently sufficient to cause the disaster) interact with each other and with latent system weaknesses to bring about the result. In this view the answer to “Who is responsible?” includes everyone involved to one degree or another, and “everyone” includes actors far from the scene responsible for budgets, training, legal architecture and other elements shaping the frontline environment.

By using George Orwell’s essay “Shooting An Elephant” the article attempts to show how even an event such as a wrongful conviction following prosecutorial withholding of exculpatory evidence that is generally seen as involving only an individual’s moral failure, can in fact implicate numerous other system considerations. The wider lens that the organizational accident etiology provides is used to suggest how the general relationship of criminal justice to local minority populations can play a causal role, and how a “non-blaming, all-stakeholders” approach to forward-looking accountability might begin to improve that relationship and prevent future errors.

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