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Touro Law Review

Abstract

Researchers identify possible structural causes for wrongful convictions: racism, justice system culture, adversary system, plea bargaining, media, juvenile and mentally impaired accused, and wars on drugs and crime. They indicate that unless the root causes of conviction error are identified, the routine explanations of error (e.g., eyewitness identifications; false confessions) will continue to re-occur. Identifying structural problems may help to prevent future wrongful convictions. The research involves the coding of archival data from the Innocence Project for seventeen cases, including the one for the Central Park Five exonerees. The data were coded by Hartwick College and Northern Vermont University students in their respective wrongful convictions courses. Students also designed a vignette of their case and conducted structured interviews with public officers, judges, lawyers, and investigators which inquired into the subjects’ awareness of exonerations. A follow up study, which is the subject of a future publication, was conducted with students at Curry College in Boston in 2019, many of whom worked as Boston City Police Officers and in other law enforcement occupations. The officers added their expertise and their appreciation of structural problems like justice system culture. This study emphasizes that the errors we see within the criminal justice system mirror and amplify the problems we see outside of that system. The findings here show that canonical list of errors in these cases may be just a veneer for deeper structural problems.

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