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Deconstructing the Path to Wrongful Convictions. Peggy DeStefano Professor of Criminal Justice Bakersfield College. Abstract.

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deconstructing the path to wrongful convictions

Deconstructing the Path to Wrongful Convictions

Peggy DeStefanoProfessor of Criminal JusticeBakersfield College

  • Many people associate the arduous task of providing investigative and advocacy services to inmates who allege their actual innocence with the work of the NY Innocence Project at Cardozo Law School. In fact, as a result of the NY group’s success under the leadership of Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld, Innocence Projects have emerged throughout the U.S., several of which are here in CA. Their work is featured in the presentation.
abstract continued
  • As a result, thousands of exoneration cases appear in the literature devoted to chronicling the causes, remedies, research, and recommended reforms.My presentation focuses on exposing the fault lines in the criminal process and illuminating key U.S. Supreme Court rulings that have provided the basis for administration of justice at various critical stages of prosecution.
abstract continued4
  • In addition, I discuss recent research in the applied behavioral sciences on media-police- prosecutor relationships and eye-witness defense attorney, and juror conduct that combine to create the perfect storm resulting in wrongful convictions. I also comment on the role of negligent and fraudulent science in the crime laboratory and some of the public policy reform measures that may redress these systemic failures.
abstract continued5
  • Throughout the formal presentation, I reference specific cases, suggest titles for further reading and film viewing, and provide follow-up information for those who may be advocacy minded.

This slide show is intended to provide a simple and brief overview of some of the facets of the problem, while creating (hopefully) an interest in attending the colloquium to participate in the protracted examination of a profound systemic issue.

the other america the incarcerated
The Other America: The Incarcerated
  • 2,000,000 incarcerated in Feds and states
  • 3,000 on Death Row in Feds and states
  • 210,000 in CA Dept. of Corr. &Rehab(includes parole supervision cases)
  • 657 on CA Death Row
prison demographics california
Prison Demographics: California
  • Ethnicity and Gender

White—27%African American—29%Latino—38%Asian/Native American/Other—6%Male—93%Female—7%

investigation phase
Investigation Phase

PoliceD.A. InvestigatorsGrand JuryInterested Citizen GroupsMediaInformantsWitnesses

suspect in custody
Suspect In-Custody
  • In-person Identification (line-up, show-up)
  • Photo/video identificationphoto line-up (“six pack”), sketches,


  • Physical Evidence(fingerprints, other samples)
  • Statements/Questions elicit incriminating response
  • Confessions
  • Admissions
  • Alibis
  • Citizen
  • Criminal (Confidential—C/I)
  • Anonymous
  • Legal standards to determine credibility
  • Greatest problem area: C/I group
right to counsel
Right to Counsel
  • Critical stages of prosecution
  • Potential loss of liberty
  • Miranda
  • Scope of the 6th Amendment protection
  • Effective assistance of counsel
  • Resource allocation and the public defense bar
post conviction legal remedies
Post Conviction Legal Remedies
  • Motion for acquittal. Request that the judge decide that there is not enough evidence to convict the defendant.
  • Motion for a new trial. Request that trial judge declare a mistrial and grant a new trial.
  • Appeal to state appellate court. Contends that trial judge made some legal error.
  • Petition for rehearing to state appeals court. Requests that appeals court judges change their own decision.
  • State supreme court appeal. Requests that highest court in the state review and overturn the decision of the mid-level appeals court.
  • U.S. Supreme Court appeal. Requests that highest court in the nation intervene to correct an error on the part of the state courts that violated the U.S. Constitution.
  • State court habeas corpus petitions. Requests that the state appeals courts order the jail or prison holding the defendant to release the defendant upon a showing that the defendant is being held in violation of some state law or constitutional right.
  • Federal habeas corpus petition. Requests the federal trial court to order the jail or prison holding the defendant to release the defendant because the defendant is being held in violation of the U.S. Constitution.Source: NOLO, 2006
exoneration demographics
Exoneration Demographics
  • Ethnicity

White—28%African American—60%Latino—10%

Asian/Native American/Other—2%Male 99% Female 1%

  • Average amount of time served—12 years
  • Average age at incarceration—26 years old
  • Death Row exonerations—7%
u s supreme court cases
U.S. Supreme Court Cases
  • Miranda v. Arizona 384 U.S. 436
  • Strickland v. Washington 466 U.S. 668
  • Brady v. Maryland 373 U.S. 83
  • Manson v. Braithwaite 432 U.S. 98
  • Daubert v. Merrill Dow Pharmaceuticals 509 U.S. 579
recent success story
Recent Success Story
  • YouTube - "12 Years Taken From Me": Help End Wrongful Convictions
  • View the interview of Herman Atkins, a recent California exoneree
  • N.B. This make take a few minutes to load.
ronnie taylor exoneration
Ronnie Taylor Exoneration
  • Convicted of forcible Rape in 1995
  • Houston Cr/Lab Expert testified in error:

Biological evidence was “not found” on victim’s bed sheet

  • Taylor also misidentified in video line-up and convicted after jury trial
  • Post-conviction DNA testing ID another convicted felon serving on other charges
  • Houston Cr/Lab cases under review
  • After release from prison?
  • Life After Exoneration Program
  • Compensation for wrongful convictions
innocence protection act a gathering storm for reform
Innocence Protection Act: AGathering Storm for Reform
  • Justice for AllEverything you need to know about passage of this legislation. Note the Kirk Bloodsworth section, named for an Innocence Project Exoneree
selected resources
Actual Innocence (Barry Scheck, et al., 2003)

An Innocent Man(John Grisham, 2005)

In Spite of Innocence(Radelet, et al., 1992)

The Innocence Project

Life After Exoneration

Truth in Justice

The Center for Public Integrity

Selected Resources