Where There's Smoke: Can We Predict Wrongful Convictions? P2 - Sparrow Law Firm

We are talking about a study of common factors in erroneous convictions. The researchers looked at data from the years 1980 to 2012 and identified 460 cases that resulted in wrongful convictions, acquittals or dismissals. Their analysis of those cases revealed 10 factors that they believe can predict a wrongful conviction. Several of the factors have also posed particular challenges in North Carolina courtrooms.

In addition to the factors reviewed in our last post, the list includes the age and criminal history of the defendant, false statements from non-eyewitnesses, the intentional misidentification of the defendant by eyewitnesses, and the use of family members as defense witnesses. Interestingly, race was not a factor.

The researchers also found that an error early in an investigation often snowballs, eventually leading to a wrongful conviction. This is particularly true if the suspect has no alibi.

If the suspect does have an alibi, though, police tend to be more thorough in their investigation. That is one reason the researchers suggest that law enforcement use a checklist or a similar tool to make sure all bases are covered from the beginning, including forensic testing. The longer an investigator waits to conduct forensic tests, the more likely it is an error will occur.

And, once an error occurs, the researchers said, the justice system has no way to make sure the same error doesn’t occur in the next case. The justice system should look at convictions of innocent people to determine where the investigation went wrong. Then, the system should take steps to prevent investigators, prosecutors, crime labs and every other stakeholder from making the mistake again.

Source: The BLT, “Study Reveals 10 Factors Common in Wrongful Convictions,” Mounira Al Hmoud, March 12, 2013

Our firm works with individuals who have been falsely accused or falsely convicted in circumstances like the ones discussed in this post. Please visit our Raleigh, North Carolina criminal defense page for more information about our practice.