Predicting Erroneous Convictions: A Social Science Approach to Miscarriages of Justice (1 of 3)


Jon Gould: I’ve been studying wrongful
convictions now for almost a decade and one of the things that continues to concern
me is that the criminal justice system does not do what we
expect and have happen in other professions and that is look at
these problems after they have occurred. So, those of us who take airplanes can be
secure in the knowledge that if anything happens on a plane,
that the National Transportation Safety Board is going to
investigate what happened to make sure that that error doesn’t
happen again. Doctors do this, too, in hospitals. If there is an error, doctors convene a group
to figure out what went wrong to prevent it. Only in the criminal justice system, where the
stakes are so high, do we not see professionals come together
when there are errors to try to learn what happened to prevent
it. Not to point fingers, not for legal liability,
simply to make sure that we have the best criminal justice
system we can have and to make sure that the innocent aren’t being
convicted and that the guilty are being convicted. If there’s anything that this research can help
move forward, I hope it is that. That, if we are truly committed to
professionals in the criminal justice system, they need to be willing to look
at when errors occurred and try to rectify them. This is social science research about
the criminal justice system. We have these two sets of cases, the wrongful
convictions and the near misses. What we’re doing in this research is we are
comparing them, what happens to a defendant in one set of cases
versus the other. Someone comes into the criminal justice system;
their case can go one way or the other. What we’re trying to figure out is what
explains why a case goes this way as opposed to going that way. Why does a defendant get wrongly convicted as
opposed to having a near miss? The one set of cases, the wrongful
convictions, what happens in these cases is someone who is factually
innocent ends up being indicted. That means he’s going to be prosecuted. He ends up being convicted of a crime he does
not commit and he does time for that. Eventually, he ends up being exonerated. That means that, eventually, he’s able to show
evidence that he did not commit the crime. That’s one set of cases. In the other set of cases, what we call the
“near miss” cases, again, someone who is factually innocent ends
up being indicted. The prosecution is going to go forward and
begin this case. But, before he’s convicted, the prosecution and
the defense, between the two of them, realize that the
person is factually innocent and he has his case dismissed or, at
trial, the jury concludes that this person is factually
innocent. They acquit him, but they acquit him not on the
basis of a legal technicality; they acquit him because they
conclude he didn’t do the crime. We use the term “near miss” because what we’re
really interested, in this research, is how the
criminal justice system identifies someone who’s factually innocent to
prevent the wrongful conviction. This isn’t simply trying to understand how
wrongful convictions happen. That’s looking at a lot of the problems in the
system. We also want to look at what the system does
well and how the system is able to identify factually innocent
people to prevent their conviction. We used both quantitative and
qualitative methods for this research. Quantitative research is what people generally
know as statistical research. So, we’re looking for statistical patterns
between both sets of cases. Qualitative research is where you actually look
at the case facts and try to figure out what’s going on in
an individual case. There, we were also — we had the assistance of
an expert panel. There we had experts from the criminal justice
system, prosecutors and police officers and the like
who are able to help us look at these cases as well. In order to do the quantitative research, we
had to collect information on all of these cases. We had approximately 60 variables of
information on every single case. We have over 400 and something cases in this
data set and we have over 60 variables on each one of these. This took years of research to be able to even
get that information.

3 Replies to “Predicting Erroneous Convictions: A Social Science Approach to Miscarriages of Justice (1 of 3)”

  1. There are also very important concepts and elements cause malicious prosecution and corruptions in criminal justice namely police, courts, and corrections. These factors are "Above the Law" and "Code of Silence". The concept of above the law occur when individuals who hold the absolute powers on hand are thinking that they are special, and above the law; thus, they do whatever they want without afraid of consequence, and regardless of law. However, constitutionally, equality under the law are the foundation of American criminal justice. The concept of code of silence occur when criminal justice officers & officials had witnessed misconduct by other employees but had not taken actions which hide behind the banner of loyalty contributing to the problem and enabling others to do the same. These unlawful and unethical actions and behaviors are linked throughout criminal justice system from one unlawful reason to another. The above the law coupled with the code of silence in criminal justice culture and subculture can leave criminal justice officers & officials in ethical dilemma. Individuals' actions and behaviors with moral values, ethical principles, human dignity and belief with self-respect and values, and professional's Code of Conduct & Honor are essential to improve effectiveness, efficiency, integrity and fairness in criminal justice system conform to the government's rule of law & concept of justice according to the U.S. Constitution. (PhD PSCJ)

  2. In the UK justice system, it seems to me that wrongful convictions are often perpetrated on people who have low I.Q or wo are soically inept. This is because they are easy targets.

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