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81 – Exposing Wrongful Convictions: Why They Happen and How to Stop Them in the Future

81 – Exposing Wrongful Convictions: Why They Happen and How to Stop Them in the Future
Dr. Jon Gould is an internationally known expert on justice policy, social change, and government reform. An accomplished author, his book The Innocence Commission: Preventing Wrongful Convictions and Restoring the Criminal Justice System was named an Outstanding Academic Title by the American Library Association. In this episode of Open Mike, Dr. Gould walks us through the complex network of issues that has resulted in a widespread, wrongful conviction crisis affecting up to 5% of all incarcerated people. The only solution may be a comprehensive upheaval of the criminal justice system…

Show Notes

[00:20] Dr. Jon Gould’s background and bio

[00:50] Welcome to Jon Gould!

[01:14] You went to University of Michigan undergrad, Harvard for law school, Harvard for your Master’s, and ph. D at University of Chicago — you may be the smartest person I’ve had on the show!

[01:53] You work at Arizona State University now… where were you before that?

[02:12] Your book, The Innocence Commission: Preventing Wrongful Convictions and Restoring the Criminal Justice System, was recently named an Outstanding Academic Title by the American Library Association. Tell us why you wrote this book and what you discovered along this journey.

[05:02] A lot of our recent guests have been talking about this groundswell of exposing wrongful convictions. In your opinion, how important is it to expose what’s going on, to try and give our country confidence in the criminal justice system?

[06:23] What are some of the most common reasons for innocent people going to prison?

[07:22] In a study Jon conducted, wrongful incarcerations oftentimes occur when prosecution doesn’t offer strong evidence. It’s counterintuitive…but these cases languish on prosecutors’ desks as they wait for more evidence to come in… they end up taking it to a grand jury, the grand jury ends up indicting… once the case gets into court, juries are much more likely to believe the person is guilty… sometimes defendants will even plead guilty or falsely confess to crimes they didn’t commit.

[08:31] Now that people working in the system have identified several, core causes of wrongful incarcerations, do you think it’s getting better?

[10:30] While sensational instances of wrongful convictions draw media attention, the vast majority of these convictions are inadvertently caused by well-intentioned people working on the case who have simply made mistakes caused by hyper focus or tunnel vision. Because of this, they’re much harder to identify and much harder to prevent.

[13:10] Once you attach yourself to the idea that someone is a suspect, it becomes harder to distance yourself from that notion as more evidence comes in that challenges it.

[16:30] Let’s talk about the near-miss study… It was a three-year study that identified ten statistically significant factors that distinguish a wrongful conviction from a “near-miss.” What were the important findings in this study and what do they mean?

[21:45] A false confession gets you arrested and indicted, but it doesn’t necessarily, on its own, lead to a wrongful conviction — they can be weeded out. The period between indictment and trial is when people can be weeded out of the system before being falsely convicted.

[22:25] That’s fascinating! What’s the second biggest point you took from the study?

[22:40] Almost always, a combination of tunnel vision, poor defense, weak facts, and Brady violations (refusal to turn over exculpatory evidence) lead to wrongful convictions… all factors that lead to wrongful convictions need to be studied and dealt with, not just one or two. It’s a problem that needs to be solved comprehensively.

[27:35] We’re not talking about hundreds… we’re talking about tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people wrongly sitting in prisons, waiting for trial, hoping for attention about their cases to get out. I don’t think anybody wants to see that continue, yet… bad cops, bad prosecutors, bad judges — do you ever see them held accountable?

[29:01] For every person who is wrongly incarcerated, there’s also someone who committed the crime out on the street. Wrongful conviction cases make us less safe as a nation, and they cost us a lot of money each year in tax dollars.

[29:45] Are you teaching these types of topics at ASU? What else do you teach there?

[33:23] While the scandalous cases of intentional corruption within the criminal justice system cast a light on the wrongful incarceration crisis, it’s now time to focus on the tremendous number of cases that may not be as easy to identify.

[36:17] Thank you to Dr. Jon Gould for coming on Open Mike! Make sure to check out his book, The Innocence Commission: Preventing Wrongful Convictions and Restoring the Criminal Justice System.

[36:58] Thanks for watching Open Mike!

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