Funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Justice

The overarching goal of the workshop was to advance wrongful conviction scholarship by enlisting theoretical perspectives and focusing on issues important to the administration of justice which have not garnered commensurate research attention. The workshop brought together diverse scholars to discuss important topics that have largely been overlooked or ignored. These “elephants in the courtroom” in the study of wrongful convictions include: 1) the intersection of race and miscarriages of justice; 2) how and why guilty pleas, which account for the vast majority of convictions, contribute to miscarriages of justice; 3) wrongful convictions for misdemeanors, which account for roughly 80% of criminal charges; and 4) data needs and methodological constraints important to the scientific study of wrongful convictions and the effective dissemination of research findings for use by policymakers and practitioners.

The specific objectives were: (1) To examine wrongful conviction issues that loom large but have not yet received sufficient attention by wrongful conviction scholars and policymakers; (2) To bring together scholars and professionals from varying disciplines (e.g., law, criminal justice, sociology, psychology, political science) to enhance understanding of wrongful convictions and to communicate new theories to test and methods to employ; and (3) To foster the translation of science into practice and policy by generating new programs of research into unexplored issues of wrongful conviction that could ultimately provide insight into the effectiveness and integrity of the criminal justice system.

Over the course of two days, participants were presented with broad-based theories and findings that have gained much traction in furthering the understanding of criminal justice system actors and institutions but have not customarily been applied to wrongful convictions specifically.  The four main sessions focused on issues that have received relatively little attention, yet have great potential to influence widely held beliefs about wrongful convictions, thereby fostering new avenues of study and possibly larger theories to test.

An important feature of the workshop is its potential for broad impact through the achievement of desired societal outcomes (e.g., a reduction in wrongful convictions and correction of the corresponding problems caused when the truly guilty perpetrators remaining at large), fostering interdisciplinary collaborations, and the dissemination of resulting work products to academic and non-academic audiences.  With these important considerations in mind, we have developed this blog to continue the discussion that took place during the Elephants in the Courtroom Workshop.

 It is our hope that as social science research evidence becomes more commonly accepted by policymakers, the potential to influence judicial decision-making, legislation, and justice administration remains real.