Loyalty to One's Convictions: The Prosecutor and Tunnel Vision
21 Pages Posted: 16 Mar 2006 Last revised: 21 Mar 2017
This essay, written as part of a symposium on loyalty, examines the dynamics leading to the disturbing phenomenon of prosecutorial tunnel vision. Specifically, it asks why prosecutors become loyal to a particular version of events - the guilt of a particular suspect - even when that version of events has been discredited. The essay begins with an examination of the concept of loyalty and the ambiguities inherent in that concept. It next discusses the relevance of these ambiguities to the divided loyalties of the prosecutor within the complex group dynamics of the prosecutor's office. It then considers the prosecutor's divided loyalties as one aspect of the larger issue of divided loyalties within the adversary system. Finally, it draws on psychological insights, particularly from the field of cognitive neuroscience, to place these conflicts in the broader context of loyalty to one's beliefs. It concludes by suggesting that reforms are more likely to succeed when they recognize and attempt to ameliorate our ingrained and tenacious loyalty to pre-existing beliefs.
Keywords: Criminal law, psychology, prosecutors, wrongful conviction
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