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the punitiveness of the state, Brady violations, forensic error, a weak case, a family defense witness, inadvertent misidentifi cation, and lying by a noneyewitness (perjury)—help explain why an innocent defendant, once indicted, ends up erroneously convicted rather than released. Moreover, they found that other factors traditionally suggested as sources of erroneous convictions, including false confes- sions, criminal justice offi cial error, and race effects, appear in statistically similar rates in both sets of cases; thus, they likely increase the chance that an innocent suspect will be indicted but not the likeli- hood that the indictment will result in a conviction. Additionally, the qualitative review of the cases revealed how the statistically signifi cant factors are connected and exacerbated by tunnel vision, which prevents the system from self-correcting once an error is made.

Executions Research

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In more recent years, as the study of wrongful convictions has advanced, attention has turned to estab- lishing lists of compelling claims of executions of the innocent (see Grassroots Investigative Project, 2000; Lofquist & Harmon, 2008), which is a smaller and more controversial subset of cases lacking the type of offi cial recognition and verifi cation provided by legal exoneration.

While fewer in number than works detailing exonerations, there are also some analyses of cases that assert the innocence of executed individuals. One of the best known is the detailed case analysis of Roger Coleman (Tucker, 1997). Other key case analyses include Dennis Stockton (Jackson, Burke, & Stockton, 1999), Gary Graham (Welch & Burr, 2002), Odell Barnes (Burtman, 2002), Timothy Bald- win (Ingle, 1990), Anthony Darden (Ingle, 1990), Larry Griffi n (Burnett, 2002), Billy Conn Gardner (Wiseman, 1996), and David Wayne Spence (Berlow, 2000). One of the fi rst studies to attempt to identify compelling claims of innocence that resulted in an execution rather than exoneration was undertaken by Lofquist and Harmon (2008). This research identifi ed 16 compelling claims of factu- ally innocent executions post- Furman and provided brief vignettes describing each case. Moreover, in a companion study, Harmon and Lofquist (2005) identifi ed predictors of case outcomes among capital defendants with strong claims of factual innocence by comparing two groups of factually innocent capital defendants: those who were exonerated and those who were executed. Through the use of a logistic regression model, the following variables were signifi cant predictors of case outcome (exoneration v. execution): allegations of perjury, multiple types of evidence, prior felony record, type of attorney at trial, and the race of the defendant.

The next section will focus on those factors that have been traditionally identifi ed by prior research as causal factors that are related to wrongful convictions. These include perjury of witnesses, pros- ecutorial misconduct, ineffective assistance of counsel, racial bias, faulty forensic evidence, mistaken eyewitness identifi cation, and false confessions.

Traditional Causes/Factors Associated With Wrongful Capital Convictions

In their summary of the research on wrongful convictions over the past century, Gould and Leo (2010) analyze the causes and consequences of wrongful convictions. They suggest that the traditional sources of error are all contributing sources of error, not exclusive causes. The factors they describe overlap with the following factors we discuss here:

Perjury of Witnesses

Perjury of witnesses refers to perjury by experts, eyewitnesses, jailhouse informants, accomplices, and others. Based on prior research on wrongful capital convictions, this factor is generally recognized as one of the most important factors leading to wrongful convictions (Bedau & Radelet, 1987; Radelet,

 

 

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Bedau, & Putnam, 1992, Harmon, 2001a). This category includes both the knowing and unknowing use of perjury by the prosecutor. Most prevalent among wrongful capital convictions includes perjury among jailhouse informants (Harmon, 2001b).

When looking more closely at this specifi c problem, Natapoff (2006) analyzed the role that crimi- nal informants play in the conviction of capital murder cases. She argues that criminal informants play a prominent role in creating wrongful convictions. Her research reviews some of the data on criminal informant-generated wrongful convictions, describing the institutional relationship among the infor- mant, police, and prosecutors that make the falsehoods so pervasive and diffi cult to discern using the traditional tools of the adversarial process. The article concludes with a suggestion to decrease the false testimony of criminal informants by requiring a pretrial reliability hearing. She suggests a process that would resemble the reasoning in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharms (1993), in which the Supreme Court ruled that it was necessary for reliability hearings for expert witnesses. The hearing would evaluate the credibility and trustworthiness of jailhouse informants prior to allowing them to testify at trial. This would permit fuller disclosure of the deals that informants make with the state, allow more thorough testing of the truthfulness of informants, and reduce opportunities for abuse. This process would decrease the reliance on criminal informant testimony as the main evidence against a defendant and prevent wrongful convictions based on informant testimony.

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