Category Archives: Scholarship

New Scholarship Spotlight: Innocence Found: The New Revolution in American Justice

Keith Findley, President of the Innocence Network, has posted the above-titled chapter on SSRN.  Download here:  The summary says:

This short extract — the first four pages of Chapter 1 in an edited volume, Controversies in Innocence Cases in America — begins to describe the history and significance of the Innocence Movement in the American Criminal Justice System. The full chapter traces the origins of the innocence organizations that came together to form the Innocence Network and fostered the new Innocence Movement, the manner in which the Innocence Movement has created an impetus and model for criminal justice reform that shifts the focus from the Warren Court’s due process revolution of the 1960s to a more substantive focus on reliability. In this framework, the chapter then considers some of the specific reforms that have emerged from the Innocence Movement’s focus on substantive justice, and the challenges that lie ahead.

New Scholarship Spotlight: In Defense of American Criminal Justice

The Honorable J. Harvie Wilkinson III of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has published the above-titled article in the Vanderbilt Law Review.  It argues that the system is not nearly as broken as many critics allege, some convictions of innocents is part of a necessary trade-off, and that the reforms pushed by the Innocence Movement often go to far.

Have a read here.

New Scholarship Spotlight: The Consequences of Error in Criminal Justice

Daniel Epps has posted the above-titled article on SSRN.  Download here.   Abstract below.  I haven’t read the piece yet, but the friend who sent it to me read it and said, “These kids with their Harvard degrees and Supreme Court clerkships and no real experience in the criminal law trenches can be really scary.”   Have a read…Enjoy!

“Better that ten guilty persons escape, than that one innocent suffer,” William Blackstone’s famous adage, stands for a powerful idea in the criminal law: that it’s essential to minimize wrongly convicting the innocent even at the expense of overall accuracy. This “Blackstone principle” accords with most people’s deeply felt intuitions about criminal justice.

This Article challenges that fundamental precept. It begins by situating the Blackstone principle in the history of Anglo-American criminal law. That history shows how the principle gained prominence — most notably, because in Blackstone’s time and earlier death was the exclusive penalty for many crimes — but provides no compelling justification today.

The leading modern argument for the Blackstone principle is that false convictions are simply more costly than false acquittals. But that argument is incomplete, because it focuses myopically on the costs of errors in individual cases. A complete analysis of the Blackstone principle requires taking stock of its dynamic effects on the criminal justice system as a whole. The Article conducts that analysis, which reveals two significant but previously unrecognized draw-backs of the Blackstone principle: First, its benefits to innocent defendants are smaller than usually assumed; it could even make those defendants worse off. Second, the principle reinforces a widely recognized political process failure in criminal justice, hurting not just defendants but society as a whole. The magnitude of these effects is uncertain, but they could more than cancel out the principle’s putative benefits.

The Article then analyzes alternative justifications for the Blackstone principle. None is satisfactory; each rests on dubious empirical premises, logical errors, or controversial premises. There is thus no fully persuasive justification for the principle. Rejecting the Blackstone principle would require us to re-think — although not necessarily redesign — various aspects of our criminal-procedure system.

New Scholarship Spotlight: A Systems Approach to Error Reduction in Criminal Justice

John Hollway, for the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice, has posted the above-titled article on SSRN.  Download here.  The abstract states:

The “systems approach” has been used, improved, and refined over time to improve safety and reduce errors in a variety of complex, high-risk industries, including health care, aviation, and manufacturing, among others. Such an approach targets the system for improvement rather than specific individuals within the system, and seeks to provide an environment that maximizes each participant’s ability to act safely and in a way that achieves the goals of the system. It prizes a non-punitive culture of disclosure to identify errors, gathers and applies data to understand the causes of the error, and tests systems changes to prevent future errors. This focus on system improvement, rather than on individual punishment or blame, unites all participants around objective criteria and allows each participant to do his or her job more efficiently, accurately and safely.

While the challenge of preventing errors in well-meaning complex systems is neither new nor unique to criminal law, the need for error reduction in the criminal justice system is clear. This document advocates for the application of a systems approach to reducing errors in the criminal justice system, generating reform in a fashion that will unify well-intentioned but professionally adversarial participants around an objective shared by all: the integrity of investigations, prosecutions, and adjudications, and the elimination of known and currently unknown errors that undermine the fair administration of justice. It then sets forth requirements for the successful application of a systems approach, and a model for interaction among researchers, reformers, and practitioners in the criminal justice system – including prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, and law enforcement officials – that will allow for more rigorous analyses of the criminal justice system and the design, testing, dissemination and implementation of successful best practices that will improve the fair administration of justice.

Book Review – Forensic Testimony; Science, Law and Expert Evidence

 

Bowers book

There has been a recent addition to the literature regarding the validity of forensic evidence and the power that expert testimony has in court.  The book Forensic Testimony; Science, Law and Expert Evidence is written by C. Michael Bowers and published by Elsevier Academic Press.

Professor Jane Taylor, University of Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia has reviewed the book, and you can read that review here.

I have had the opportunity to personally review this book, and can say without question that it is a must read for anyone who deals with the validity (or lack of) and the power of forensic evidence and expert testimony in a trial.

The book really resonates with me, because it emphasizes the problems with the “uniqueness principle” and the use of flawed inductive reasoning in the development of the forensic disciplines (I refuse to call them “sciences.”) that I have been preaching about for years.

I most highly recommend it.  The book is available on Amazon here.

The chapter headings:

Chapter 1     The History of Experts in English Common Law, with Practice Advice for Beginning Experts

Chapter 2     Science and Forensic Science

Chapter 3     The Admissibility of Forensic Expert Evidence

Chapter 4     Professional Forensic Expert Practice

Chapter 5     Managing Your Forensic Case From Beginning to End

Chapter 6     Character Traits of Expert Witnesses: The Good and the Bad

Chapter 7     Voir Dire and Direct Examination of the Expert

Chapter 8     Cross Examination: The Expert’s Challenge and the Lawyer’s Strategies

Chapter 9     Uniqueness and Individualization in Forensic Science

Chapter 10   Forensic Failures

Chapter 11   Forensic Expert Ethics

Chapter 12   The Unparalleled Power of Expert Testimony

 

 

New Scholarship Spotlight: Expert Testimony on Interrogation and False Confession

Innocence Network President Keith Findley and others have posted the above-titled article on SSRN.  Download here.  The abstract states:

This article examines the need and bases for expert testimony on false confessions in criminal cases. Drawing on social science research, the article first briefly assesses the role of false confessions in wrongful convictions, including the nature of the false confession problem and the impact of false confessions in producing false convictions as well as in tainting other evidence and other aspects of police investigations. The article then turns to admissibility standards that govern expert testimony and their application to false confession expert testimony. In particular it sets forth the typical standards used for assessing admissibility of expert evidence and then shows that, when those standards are applied objectively, appropriately framed expert testimony on false confessions should be admissible in most cases. In particular, the article discusses the research on false confessions to highlight the types of facts that experts can provide to juries. The article then addresses the most prominent systemic response to coerced confessions “the Miranda warnings.” The article examines psychological research to demonstrate that Miranda provides very little protection against coerced and false confessions, and, therefore, cannot provide justification for dispensing with expert testimony.

 

 

National Academy of Sciences Study: Over Four Percent of People Sentenced to Death are Likely Innocent

New peer-reviewed research indicates that at least 4.1 percent of defendants sentenced to death in the United States are likely innocent. The article, “Rate of False Conviction of Criminal Defendants who are Sentenced to Death,” published today in one of the world’s most respected scientific journals—Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences—is available at http://www.eurekalert.org/account.php

“This study provides the first rigorous estimate of the rate of conviction of innocent criminal defendants in any context. It shows that the number of innocent people sentenced to death is more than twice the number of inmates actually exonerated and freed by legal action,” said Bruce Levin, Ph.D., Professor and Past Chair, Department of Biostatistics, Mailman School of Public Health Columbia University. Levin, an expert in statistics, did not participate in the research but is familiar with the study. Continue reading