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Innocent Defendants: Divergent Case Outcomes and What They Teach Us

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

18 Pages Posted: 5 Jul 2013 Last revised: 30 Sep 2014

Jon B Gould

American University - School of Public Affairs; American University - Washington College of Law

Julia Carrano

American University

Richard A. Leo

University of San Francisco - School of Law

Katie Hail-Jares

American University

Date Written: July 1, 2013

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.

Keywords: wrongful conviction, erroneous conviction, criminal law, criminal procedure, criminal justice, innocent defendants

Suggested Citation

Gould, Jon B and Carrano, Julia and Leo, Richard A. and Hail-Jares, Katie, Innocent Defendants: Divergent Case Outcomes and What They Teach Us (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. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2289331

Jon B Gould

American University - School of Public Affairs ( email )

Washington, DC 20016
United States

American University - Washington College of Law ( email )

4300 Nebraska Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20016
United States

Julia Carrano

American University ( email )

4400 Massachusetts Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20016
United States

Richard A. Leo (Contact Author)

University of San Francisco - School of Law ( email )

2130 Fulton Street
San Francisco, CA 94117
United States

Katie Hail-Jares

American University ( email )

4400 Massachusetts Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20016
United States

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