Innocent Defendants: Divergent Case Outcomes and What They Teach Us
Jon B Gould
American University - School of Public Affairs; American University - Washington College of Law
Richard A. Leo
University of San Francisco - School of Law
July 1, 2013
in Marvin Zalman & Julia L. Carrano, eds., Wrongful Conviction and Criminal Justice Reform: Making Justice (Routledge 2014).
Univ. of San Francisco Law Research Paper No. 2013-26
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.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 18
Keywords: wrongful conviction, erroneous conviction, criminal law, criminal procedure, criminal justice, innocent defendants
Date posted: July 5, 2013 ; Last revised: September 30, 2014