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science has accounted for a signifi cant number of wrongful convictions. A recent study of 200 DNA exonerations found that forensic evidence (prevalent in 57% of the cases) was the second leading type of evidence (after eyewitness identifi cations at 79%) used in wrongful noncapital conviction cases. While less prevalent in capital cases, DNA was a catalyst in 20 out of the 156 post-Furman capital exonerations (www.deathpenaltyinfo.org, retrieved on 12/24/2016). The research suggests the fol- lowing policy implications: the accreditation of crime labs; ensuring components are maintained and enforced; the standardization of technical procedures to address problem issues; the certifi cation of examiners; and the creation of forensic science commissions.

Mistaken Eyewitness Identifi cation

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Loftus has documented the signifi cant problems of eyewitness misidentifi cation and false memory (Loftus, 1996, 2003). However, the research on causes of wrongful capital convictions suggest that this factor, while important, may be less prevalent in capital as opposed to noncapital cases (Bedau & Radelet, 1987; Radelet et al., 1992; Harmon, 2001a).

False Confessions

Leo and his colleagues’ extensive research on interrogation techniques and false confessions is signifi – cant (Davis, Leo, & Follette, 2010; Drizin & Leo, 2004; Leo, 2001; Leo & Ofshe, 1998). In a recent article, Leo and Davis (2010) examined the processes through which false confessions, once obtained by police, may lead to wrongful convictions. They examined the psychological processes linking false confession to wrongful conviction and failures of postconviction relief. Moreover, the authors dis- cussed the reciprocal infl uences of the mechanisms and their biasing impact on the perceptions and behaviors of suspects, investigators, prosecution and defense attorneys, juries, and trial and appellate judges. Additionally, Leo & Liu (2009) conducted a study of potential jurors to determine their per- ceptions of psychological interrogation techniques and their impact on the risk of false confessions. Their results suggest that potential jurors greatly underestimate the likelihood of false confessions and the risk that psychologically coercive interrogation techniques may have on eliciting false confessions.

Typical Factors That Lead to the Discovery of Wrongful Convictions

Prior research suggests the discovery of wrongful convictions tends to surface for numerous reasons. A primary factor in capital cases is the appointment of new counsel and the continued investigation that counsel conducts. In her research, Harmon (2001b) found that the appointment of new counsel is very likely the main reason for capital exonerations (Harmon, 2001b). The discovery of errors and new evidence that resulted in exoneration are usually the result of the hard work and dogged investigation by defense attorneys whose dedication goes above and beyond the normal standards and requirements of appellate attorneys; frequently, this work and investigation continue long after the defendant has been convicted. In many exoneration capital cases, the attorneys worked pro bono for many years before seeing their clients exonerated. In these situations, the system provided no fi nancial support to assist the defense attorneys. It was also customary for these attorneys to hire investigators, using their own money, to conduct complete reinvestigations of the cases in order to discover new exculpatory evidence. In many, if not most, cases, the system had nothing to do with the new evidence coming to light. An investigation unrelated to the actual judicial process, conducted by a fi lmmaker, journalist, reporter, law class, or family member, often led to the discovery of new exculpatory evi- dence. The fact that some of these defendants were fortunate to have attorneys represent them pro bono for many years fi ghting for their cause, or were ”lucky” to have a third party become involved,

 

 

32 Wrongful Capital Convictions

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