The Wrongful Convictions Law Review – Now Available!

The inaugural issue of the Wrongful Convictions Law Review, a peer-reviewed law review dedicated to innocence scholarship, case commentaries, and book reviews, is now available for free online.

The table of contents for Issue 1 is below. You can access the full text of the issue here or access individual articles by clicking on the titles below.

Foreword – The Right Honourable Beverly McLachlin (Former Chief Justice, Supreme Court of Canada)

Articles

Thirty Years of Innocence: Wrongful Convictions and Exonerations in the United States, 1989-2018 (R. J. Norris, J. R. Acker, C. L. Bonventre, & A. D. Redlich)

Dealing with DNA Evidence in the Courtroom: A Plain English Review of Current Issues with Identification, Mixture and Activity Level Evidence (L. Weathered, K. Wright, & J. Chaseling)

Prosecutorial Involvement in Exoneration: An Exploratory Analysis of Individual, Organizational, and Environmental Factors (R. A. Bowman & J. B. Gould)

Unveiling Wrongful Convictions Between the U. S. and Italy: Cross-Learning from Each Other’s Mistakes(L. Luparia & C. Greco)

Edwin Borchard’s Innocence Project: The Origin and Legacy of His Innocence Conviction Scholarship (M. Zalman)

Book Review

Miscarriages of Justice in Canada: Causes, Responses, Remedies, by Kathryn M. Campbell (J. Freedman)

New Article on Prosecutors and Exonerations

In a new article published in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Elizabeth Webster examines the role of prosecutors in exonerations. The citation and abstract are posted below, and you can check out the article here.

Webster, Elizabeth. “The Prosecutor as a Final Safeguard Against False Convictions: How Prosecutors Assist with Exoneration.” Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 110, no. 2 (2020): 245-305.

Prosecutors have helped secure an unprecedented number of recent exonerations. This development, combined with the rapid emergence of district attorney-initiated conviction integrity units (CIUs) raises several questions. How do prosecutors’ offices review postconviction innocence claims? How do they make decisions about the merits of those claims? How do CIU processes differ from non-CIU processes? This study examines the circumstances surrounding prosecutor-assisted exoneration cases through semi-structured interviews with 20 prosecutors and 19 defense attorneys. It draws from a sample of both CIU and non-CIU prosecutors, thereby enabling comparisons. Respondents were asked about their experiences and decision-making structures in specific, post-2005 exoneration cases as well as their impressions of postconviction practices more broadly. Their responses revealed the salience of office hierarchies and appellate principles for prosecutors’ postconviction discretion. Unlike earlier stages—such as charging and plea bargaining—few decisions appear to be delegated to the line prosecutor in the postconviction stage. Therefore, I incorporate organizational accident theory to understand key decisions, such as which prosecutor should be tasked with reviewing innocence claims, how to screen claims, and how to decide the outcome of an innocence claim. I find that prosecutors work within a system that emphasizes procedural errors over factual ones and that allows for a narrow and belated discovery of false convictions. Thus, prosecutors’ postconviction efforts do not appear likely to create a new pathway to exoneration for pro se defendants, or to identify false convictions that have not already been discovered by trusted defense attorneys, innocence organizations, and/or journalists. Although most prosecutors described processes that could reliably facilitate unbiased case review and reinvestigation, these processes were reserved for only the most extraordinary of innocence claims. The significance of this research for policy (in the crafting of legislation and court rules) and practice (in the processing of innocence claims through prosecutors’ offices) is discussed.

New Article on Prosecutors and True Perps

A new article by Jennifer N. Weintraub has been published in Crime & Delinquency. It explores the relationship between prosecutorial misconduct and the identification of true perpetrators in cases of wrongful conviction. You can find the title and abstract below. For more information, check out the journal’s website here.

Title: Obstructing Justice: The Association Between Prosecutorial Misconduct and the Identification of True Perpetrators

Author: Jennifer N. Weintraub

Abstract: Prosecutorial misconduct is a potential barrier to identifying true perpetrators of crimes in wrongful conviction cases. Previous theories posit that pressures on prosecutors to carry out their role as ministers of justice in an adversarial system can incentivize misconduct and disincentivize postconviction cooperation, especially regarding alleged misconduct at trial. This study empirically tests how prosecutorial misconduct at trial can affect postconviction proceedings by analyzing the relation between prosecutorial misconduct alleged at trial and the identification of a true perpetrator postconviction in DNA exoneration cases. Results demonstrate that, as predicted, prosecutorial misconduct is associated with a decrease in the odds of true perpetrator identification. This work further underscores the need for the implementation of functional policy to deter prosecutorial misconduct.

Introducing the Wrongful Conviction Law Review

As the field of innocence scholarship continues to grow, we are excited by the launch of a new scholarly journal dedicated to this area of research. The Wrongful Conviction Law Review will be launching this year. From the website:

“The WCLR is an open source peer reviewed international journal focusing on wrongful convictions and miscarriages of justice. While we are fundamentally a law review, we welcome submissions from other disciplines (e.g. criminology, sociology, psychology etc.). We aim to be the foremost repository of articles, book reviews and case commentaries in our field of endeavour. The Review has a preference for submitted papers to be between 8,000 and 12,000 words. Longer papers will be published where the length is justified. Matters of style and citation are governed by the Canadian Guide to Uniform Legal Citation (8th ed.) or APA (7th ed.).

We will publish high-quality, original, empirical and theoretical research.

The WCLR seeks to foster dialogue and collaberation between scholars, jurists and practitioners.”

For more information about the journal, its editorial board, or to submit a paper, check out the website here.

New Article on Wrongful Convictions and Public Opinion

A new article by Robert Norris and Kevin Mullinix explores how wrongful convictions affect public opinion has been published online in the Journal of Experimental Criminology.

The paper examines the effects of both statistical or numerical information (i.e., numbers of wrongful convictions) and narratives (i.e., a story about a wrongful conviction) on public attitudes toward the justice system, including support for the death penalty, support for police reforms, trust in the justice system, and personal concern about wrongful convictions.

The full citation and abstract are below.  More information is available here.

Norris, R.J. & Mullinix, K.J. (2019). Framing innocence: An experimental test of the effects of wrongful convictions on public opinion. Journal of Experimental Criminology. Online first, doi: 10.1007/s11292-019-09360-7.

Objectives: 

Discourse about criminal justice in the USA increasingly revolves around wrongful convictions. Research has documented the emergence of the “innocence frame,” but relatively little is known about its effects on public opinion. We utilize framing theory to examine how various presentations of wrongful conviction information affect attitudes toward the justice system and highlight the consequences of the innocence movement for public opinion.

Methods:

We implement two survey experiments to test the effects of innocence information for criminal justice attitudes. In the first experiment, we test the impact of wrongful conviction numbers relative to a control group for death penalty support. In the second experiment, we analyze the effects—both separately and jointly—of exoneration numbers and a wrongful conviction narrative relative to a control group for attitudes toward the death penalty and police reform, trust in the justice system, and personal concern.

Results:

We demonstrate that the presentation of factual numbers of exonerations reduces support for capital punishment and erodes trust in the justice system, but fails to garner support for police reforms or increase personal concern about wrongful convictions. However, a narrative about an individual wrongful conviction predictably has more pronounced effects on death penalty attitudes and increases personal concern and support for police reform, but has little effect on trust in the justice system more broadly.

Conclusions:

Wrongful convictions are consequential for public opinion, but the effects are contingent on how the information is framed and the attitudinal outcome of interest. Our findings have implications for criminal justice attitudes and policy, the innocence movement, and framing theory.

 

New article on How Innocents Enter the System

A new article from Belen Lowrey-Kinberg and colleagues was recently published in Crime & Delinquency. The article explores how innocents become suspects and enter the criminal justice system. The full citation and abstract are below. More information can be found here.

Lowrey-Kinberg, B., Senn, S. L., Dunn, K., Gould, J. B., & Hail-Jares, K. (2018). Origin of implication: How do innocent individuals enter the criminal justice system? Crime & Delinquency. Online first, doi: 10.1177/0011128718793618.

Drawing from the investigative policing literature, we develop a typology for how innocent defendants become suspects in criminal investigations. We use the Preventing Wrongful Convictions Project (PWCP) dataset and multivariate modeling to examine the case and defendant characteristics that predict how an innocent defendant became a suspect. We found that investigators identify suspects in eight primary ways. The most common in the PWCP dataset were victim/eyewitness identification, citizen identification, and intentional misidentification. Defendant’s race, age, criminal history, relationship to the victim, cognitive/mental status, and whether the victim survived were strongly associated with an innocent defendant’s origin of implication. These results illuminate how tunnel vision begins in cases with innocent defendants, and how police practices may prevent innocent individuals from becoming suspects.