Research Examines Wrongful Convictions

Apr 4, 2014

No one wants to be accused of a crime they didn’t commit, let alone face jail or prison time for it. But it happens. One researcher is attempting to identify causes of wrongful convictions, and solutions to keep it from happening.

Dr. Jon Gould is a criminal law professor at American University in Washington D.C. Gould says wrongful convictions don’t happen in certain regions of the United States, but everywhere. He says it’s difficult to find these cases because the defendant has to convince someone of their innocence. But he says there are some common characteristics of the accused.
“If we look at the defendants themselves, some of the things that are relevant are their demographics. So younger men, more likely than men a little bit older to be wrongly convicted. The reason here being that the younger men not as sophisticated about the criminal justice system, it’s harder for them to assist in their defense. They’re also less likely to be employed, so among other things they don’t have alibis or their alibis aren’t as credible because they don’t have punch cards that they’ve been at work,” Gould says.
Gould adds that in interrogations, false confessions usually come from the young and mentally challenged.
He says when a mistake happens in the criminal justice system, there’s very seldom an investigation. He says that’s unusual, considering how much investigation goes into other accidents.
“The criminal justice system does not apply the same kind of evalutations to problems as we expect, in say, transportation accidents. So when a plane crashes in the United States, the National Transportation safety board sends a team of investigators out to figure out what happened, why did the plane crash, and how to prevent it. That’s exactly what we all want. But when there’s an error in the criminal justice system, when someone’s wrongly convicted very, very few states and even fewer criminal justice agencies it seems at times are bringing that same attention to the problems to see what went wrong,” Gould says.
Gould says to have an efficient and fair criminal justice system in the U-S, people need to be willing to admit mistakes and look for ways to prevent them in the future. Gould spoke to University of South Dakota students in Vermillion.