DAVID DUNNING: Good afternoon. This is the sesquicentennial session, Convicted by Law, Acquitted by Social Science. I'm your moderator for the session, Professor David Dunning, from the Psychology Department. We'll get to the real business at hand, which is to talk about an activity or an enterprise that we humans, as a species, in doing, well, I was just a [INAUDIBLE] species.
And it's coming up with rules, customs, regulations, written laws that make sure that, in our daily lives, we are living days that are peaceful, and ensure that we don't harm each other in ways that we could do so inadvertently, or with intent. And beyond that, if we do come into some sort of dispute, those disputes don't lead to violations of these customs and norms, which would lead to harms to each other. Now this is an essential enterprise. It is a noble enterprise.
But it's also a challenging enterprise because, quite simply, we also hold for ourselves one other ideal when it comes to regulating each other's behavior. And that is what we're going to do that an accurate way, and we're going to do that in a just way. We are going to act only on the basis of the truth of what has happened. And the decisions we make are going to be consistent with our ethics or our morality and our humanity.
But here's the problem, and we all know what the problem is. The problem is is that in doing this task with challenging ideals, we are all too human. The circumstances we're dealing with sometimes can be all too messy. And so the conduct of the law, and the conduct of criminal protection can be, well, to put it diplomatically, imperfect.
And I think we've all seen examples of that. For example, on the evening news or on cable television increasingly being captured by cell phone, video, or dashboard video. Just this past week, the Department of Justice and the FBI conceded that many of its rulings and expert testimony given through the years, 1980 through 2000, especially when dealing with the science of hair identification, experts in criminal cases had been giving faulty testimony in many cases dealing with people who have-- were sent to death row, or have been, indeed, executed.
Now towards that end, because we are dealing with a challenging enterprise, and an enterprise that does have imperfections associated with it, a number of other institutions, including Cornell University, have had groups come together and try to come up with some sort of solutions, or some sort of answers, to the challenges that the legal profession does face.
For example, at Cornell, we have a unique set of-- a unique collection of scholars who do work at the intersection of behavioral science and the law. And they-- or we have created a program that also allows for the best students who want to work at this intersection to come and get both a JD and a PhD degree in a compressed amount of time. And some of those facets of this enterprise at Cornell you're going to see here today in our session.
Just to give you a quick rundown of who will be speaking today, talking about both the human dimensions of the issues that I'm talking about, and also the scientific and legal responses to the challenges that those dimensions represent is-- we have Kirk Bloodsworth, who was the first exoneree from death row based on a DNA evidence after a nine-year ordeal that he, unfortunately, was the center of. He is a member of the Witness to Innocence Project, and a frequent guest lecturer here at Cornell and at other universities and other institutions.
Amelia Hritz is one of our first and current JD PhD candidates in the Cornell Joint Degree Program I just mentioned. Valerie Hans is a Professor of Law at Cornell Law School, and one of the foremost researchers on jury and jury decision making. And she has done research and has lectured on juries around the world.
Stephen Ceci is the HL Professor of Developmental Psychology in the Department of Human Development. He's the recipient of numerous lifetime contribution awards, and just recently submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court. And our final speaker will be John Blume, who is Samuel F. Liebowitz Professor of Trial Techniques at the Cornell Law School. He teaches Evidence and Trial Procedure and also directs capital punishment and innocence clinics at the law school.
Now, everybody who's about to present to you is going to create a lot of questions on your part. If you can hold on to those questions, we're going to have an extended question period at the end of everybody's talk. So hold onto those questions, and we'll be sure to address them after everybody has had a chance to speak. Thank you. Kirk--
KIRK BLOODSWORTH: I want to thank you all for coming and allowing me to be a part of this 150 year celebration. And since there's a lawyer or two in the room, I want to tell you a story about the first lawyer I ever had. Now remember, I was the first person in the United States to be freed from death row by DNA. So this story is about my first lawyer that I ever met.
Now I want you to picture a visiting room, and your lawyer comes in off the street to an archway. And he sits in front of this glass partition with his back to a brick wall. And the first thing out of his mouth, he says, Kirk, you're in a lot of trouble. I thought, very astute of him.
He says, but don't worry. I know my way around a courtroom. And I know my way around the criminal justice system. And we're going to find our way out of here together. So that made me feel a little better. We talked about the case for about 20 minutes, one of only three times I've seen this man in the eight months it took to send me to death row.
And right before he gets ready to leave, he reiterates what he said in the beginning, Kirk, I know my way around the courtroom. We're going to find our way out of here together. So he put his hand on the glass to say goodbye. He picked up his briefcase, turned around, and ran right into the wall.
He was right. I was in a lot of trouble, boy. But on August 9th, 1984, at about 2:45 in the morning, it wasn't funny at all. Boom, boom, boom, on the door. I go to the door. This was 1984, in August of that year. It was very hot.
And I opened a door, and there's police officers standing with their flashlights and pistols drawn. Step outside. You're under arrest for first degree murder of 9-year-old Dawn Hamilton. They said a curse word, read me my rights, and handcuffed me, and walked me across a stone parking lot, barefooted.
Now this whole thing started based on-- and that was the last time I seen Cambridge, Maryland, where I grew up as a crab fisherman for 8 years 10 months and 19 days. This whole thing began based on a witness identification of a person that was described as follows-- 6 foot 5, curly blonde hair, bushy mustache, tan skin, and skinny. Certainly, I was not this robust, but my hair was as red as a Cornell sweater. I had sideburns down to here. They will also red. And I don't tan, because I'm a redhead.
Now I told anyone, and everyone, that would listen to me for more than a second that I was an innocent man. As a matter of fact, I used a sign all my correspondence that way, respectively submitted, Kirk Noble Bloodsworth, a period i period m period-- an innocent man. Now I was arrested on a Thursday. They had a lineup on that coming Monday.
They called all the witnesses in the Dawn Hamilton murder case, and said, don't watch television. We have just arrested a suspect. And we don't want to taint the ID. By the way, his name is Kirk Bloodsworth. But don't do that. So all the witnesses come forward on the Monday to watch the lineup.
And the two main witnesses in this case were two little boys, ages 8 and 10. And they had seen this individual on the rise of hill, just about like how you and [INAUDIBLE] are positioned to each other. And the man on the hill was looking down on them with the sun behind his head in an elevated position. And the older of the two boys was the one that said the fellow was 6 foot 5.
Now, Dawn had-- during this lineup procedure that those two main witnesses never identified me as the person they said they saw. But they had five identification witnesses in all that positively identified me as the last person seen with Dawn Hamilton. Now, go to the lineup, these children never picked me out. And it wasn't until two weeks later, their parents called the Baltimore County Police Department and said, our children have made a mistake. It was really number six that they saw that day. And that's the position I stood in.
Now I had never been in a trial before. I was a honorably discharged marine with no criminal record or criminal history. And I'm not going to sit here or stand here and tell you that I was an angel. But, certainly, I have enough integrity to know what I wasn't doing, and that was killing a 9-year-old little girl.
Now, let's talk about the witnesses for a minute, and just-- the brief time I have-- it's the two little boys, the oldest of the two children, made the composite sketch. And this thing was circulated in the area. This whole thing started from a next door neighbor saw the composite sketch, and said, the composite sketch looks like my neighbor, Kirk. And just by the virtue of finger point.
Now the oldest of the two boys was asked to do a composite. Now I'm not talking about an artist's rendering of a composite sketch, like I would sit here, you would tell me what the person looked like, and I would draw the picture. This was done by a thing called an identikit from Disney. It's sets of overlays, mustaches, eyebrows, hair lines, jaw lines, facial features, and so forth. 25 of each in these overlies. And they compile a face to make it look like the person they said they saw.
The oldest of the little boy wasn't happy with it. He said the hair was wrong. He said the mustache was definitely wrong. He said that it looked more like a moustache that drooped over on either side. And the police officer said, well, that's a Fu Manchu. And he said, well, that's what it looked like. He didn't know what it was. I mean the boy was 10.
And-- but the police officer never put the mustache on the composite, because they said it looked too Asian. And so they came up with that. The youngest of the two little boys couldn't do the composite sketch. So the police officers brought the two boys in the same room for the younger child to agree upon the older child's composite. That's what was circulated in the area.
Now, it was my day off of work. I had never left the house. And for all intents and purposes, on July 25th, 1984, Dawn Hamilton was, you know, home from, you know, in the summer. She had a sleep over the night before. She had friends over. They got up about 10:30 in the morning to watch the Facts of Life on TV. Those older folks in here, we know what that is. And-- but the kids watched the TV, and they wanted to all go out and play hide and go seek after the show.
And it was about 11 or so. They went outside, and Dawn was it. She could not find her friends. She had come to-- back up to the house, and said that, fine, [INAUDIBLE] in the woods. And her aunt that was watching her that day said, you go down, and holler into the woods at the fence, and tell them to come out. About another half hour after that, the children came back, but Dawn did not.
And for the sake of the children that's in this room, I'm not going to go into the details of the crime, but I can tell you that it was horrific. It was one of the most brutal crimes in our state's history in Maryland. And that is what I was accused of. Now the lineup goes on.
And the trial is beginning to start. And the trial lasted about two weeks. No physical evidence whatsoever. Now let's talk about the witnesses. OK, you had the two little boys who saw this person on an elevated position with the sun behind his head for just a matter of seconds. Dawn had come up to them, and asked them to help her find her friends. They declined.
And leading the way, she was followed by this person that said he would help her. And that was the last time she was seen alive. Now, the other witnesses had seen this person as early as 6:00 in the morning. There was one witness who said that she had actually saw this person, but in her original statement she said, she only heard somebody saying something.
And there is another person that said that I had done a terrible thing, and that we were going to-- my wife and I was never going to get back together because of it. And she said she read her statement and wrote her statement. Well, there is a big problem. She could not read or write. There was another witness who said he had identified me as the person he saw that day. And he asked him, well, where did you see him at? And he said, I saw Mr. Bloodsworth on television. And they allowed him to testify.
There was one witness right after the other that at the face of it might have been something for the police to latch on to, but even the little boy had said that my hair was too red. And the police just dismissed it as being a color problem in the photograph. All these people pointed me out. The prosecutor calling me a monster.
I just sat there while my mother sat and cried in the front pew. My father tried to object, but after two weeks of all this, the gavel came down on my life. And the sentence was death and double life. The courtroom erupted in applause, give him the gas, and kill him. I sat in disbelief, and all my lawyer did, at the end of the day, was meet me in the bullpen after I was sentenced, and smiled, and said, good luck.
I wound up going to one of the most notorious prisons in the United States, the Maryland Penitentiary, at 954 Forrest Street where a guard had been disemboweled for a perceived insult two weeks before I got there. You can all imagine what I was-- my life expectancy was going to be like.
Now there were several suspects in this case. There was one suspect by the name of Kimberly Ruffner, who was let go for two weeks before Dawn's murder for two attempted rapes of two other little girls a year before. And was never-- the police never went back to check on the police report that came in on him. There was 500 tips and a hot tip line. The tip that came across me with the next door neighbor was tip 286. And that's what they went with.
Now the Maryland Penitentiary sits in the middle of Baltimore. It's a Gothic-looking building, 20-foot thick, silver spires-- I mean, big stones, silver spires reaching up the side, looks just like a castle. And they walked me through this corridor where I could just barely walk. You kind of do like a penguin waddle, because I have a waist chain on and block and cuffs and leg irons and a leather belt around my waist. And I was branded the worst thing-- a child killer.
I had no idea what I was going to do. I just walked into this cell. When the cell door slammed shut, it sounded like the tailgate of a dump truck. I remember eating my first meal, which was supposed to be spaghetti, but it was a bowl of tomato where somebody had took a bite out of it. It was a metal rack in the side, and a stainless steel toilet, and a sink, a slate floor, studded walls. You could touch either wall by going like this.
I remember one of the first nights I had ever spent there that-- I was reading a magazine, and the power went out. And when I say the power went out, the lights went out. There was no ambient light from the street. It was just totally dark. I could not see my hand in front of my face. And the other convicts started shaking the bars, and getting upset, and flooding the tier by shoving things in their toilet and punching the button over and over.
And these things were coming out of the ceiling, and hitting me in the face, in the [INAUDIBLE]. And I'm brushing them off. And now they're screaming. They're lighting their books on fire. They're lighting their bibles on fire. And they're shaking the bars, and this water, and this cascaded this waterfall comes swirling around my bars, and swooping into my cell. And there's smoke. And these things are hitting in the mouth.
And then the power pops back on. And I'm not kidding, folks. There was a sea of cockroaches swimming across the ceiling. They would run through your fingers like sand if you swooped through them. I used to have to take wads of toilet paper, and stick it in my ears at night, so they wouldn't crawl in there. But this was my life.
Now my case was overturned by discovery of-- discovery evidence, or exculpatory evidence of a person that was seen at the crime scene, who actually found the undergarments, and the articles of clothing in a tree down a path where Dawn's body lay. And this person had found those items and gave them to Dawn's father. And they found a pair of little girl's panties in his console of his car that he found in the same woods she was murdered at two days before.
My case was overturned, because the police never gave us that information. And before you even start, he was not the perpetrator. We were looking for somebody else. We were looking for this 6 foot 5 guy.
I want you to flash forward now. I read a book called The Blooding by Joseph Wambaugh. And the first time, this new technology-- if you all noticed my tie-- the new technology called DNA was ever used in a criminal case. And lucky and behold, the prosecutor told me they couldn't find evidence. It was not to be found. And she said, it was inadvertently destroyed. But in the end, it was in the judge's closet, in a bag in a cardboard box sitting in the floor.
Five months before I was released, my mother passed away. I went to see her and kissed her goodbye, and went back to prison. On June 28, 1993, I was released from prison based on DNA testing in a post-conviction. They tested all the evidence, and finally found the information to my freedom.
Fast forward 10 more years, I'm sitting in my office and the phone rings. It's the Baltimore County Police Department. Well, it said Baltimore County, and it was the prosecutor, the woman who called me a monster on the other end. She said, we have an update on the Hamilton murder. And guess who it was?
It was Kimberly Ruffner, the person that the police report came out on him eight days before I was arrested. And they never went back to check. And he was not 6 foot 5. He was 5 foot 6 and 160 pounds. And he slept in a tier below me for five years, and never said a word.
You know, between justice and someone else stands a lawyer. And I needed a lawyer that was really good and Bob Moran happened to be that lawyer. He's a judge now, works in DC, paid for the DNA out of his own pocket. We have to stand up in this life. We have to do what is right.
And it all takes somebody coming from a school like this that studied really hard. You must stand up for your life in these things. Stand up for what you believe in, like my mother also always would say. Stand up for what's right, and stand up for the innocent. But when you stand up, please, turn around, and don't run into that wall. Thank you.
AMELIA C. HRITZ: Hi, everyone. My name is Amelia Hritz. I'm a third-year student at Cornell in the Law and Psychology Program. And I'm going to show you a short video I made that was part of a class project I did for Professor Hans. And it shows the real world implications of social science research. I'll give you a quick background.
My research at Cornell focuses on false confessions. I first became interested in this area because I learned about a case in Nebraska that the media dubbed the Beatrice 6. In that case, the police suspected six people of committing a heinous murder. After multiple interrogations, five of them confessed, and only one maintain that they were all innocent. And he went to trial. Three of them testified at his trial, and he was convicted.
20 years later, they were all exonerated by DNA. I contacted people at the Nebraska Innocence Project, and asked them if I could learn more about this case and false confessions. My timing ended up being fortunate because a civil case involving the Beatrice 6 had just ended.
And so members were able to speak about their experiences for the first time in years. JoAnn Taylor, one of the people who had been exonerated, agreed to meet with me and share her story. And this is the result.
- JoAnn, a film by Amelia Hritz. As the JD PhD candidate in Cornell University's Law and Psychology Program I study the circumstances that impact the reliability of confession evidence. The Beatrice 6 case is one of the most striking examples of how false confessions can lead to a miscarriage of justice. Six people were falsely convicted of the rape and murder of 68-year-old Helen Wilson. James Dean, Kathy Gonzalez, Debra Shelden, Joseph White, Thomas Winslow, and JoAnn Taylor.
- I remember the cop telling me I was wanted in connection with a homicide in Beatrice, Nebraska. And I asked him, where the hell was Beatrice, Nebraska? He'd come to my cell a couple of times, and told me that he knew that if I just relaxed and dreamed, that things would come back to me. I would have the proper memories. I was just repressing everything.
- Through multiple interrogations, Gage County sheriffs coerced JoAnn into believing that she had murdered Helen Wilson. I asked her what this process was like.
- There was so much evidence, so-called evidence, piled in-- piled so high that there was no reason for me to dispute it. There was-- I didn't see a way to dispute it. My mental health issues made me feel more naive, because I just-- whatever you told me it was fact.
I didn't have the courage to stand up and say no. Looking back, I wish I had of. I'd never had any reason not to believe my psychologist or the cops, because they'd always been there in the past as a positive in my life.
- What did your psychologist say to you about this?
- He said that even though I didn't remember everything correctly, that if I would just relax, and it would come back to me in dreams. It might come back in full-- full pieces, or it may come back fragmented. I was shown several pictures of the crime scene, which was their way of helping my memory, helping me remember different aspects that I couldn't technically remember for them.
- What did you feel when you saw these pictures?
- Disgust. Part of me kept saying, I couldn't have done this. But, yet, here was all this evidence piling up, proving that I had. This was a 68-year-old woman. When I was arrested in North Carolina, my grandmother lived with me. My grandmother was in her 60s, so it was like-- it was almost like my grandmother, or someone's grandmother.
But during the time from March until August, I had the Deputy Sheriff, as well as other law enforcement officials, as well as my psychiatrist, tell me that I was in on a murder charge. They could prove I'd done it. They kept telling me they were going to give me the death penalty, make me the first female on death row. And that the sooner that I came clean and told them what they already knew, and give the family of the victims some closure, then things would be easier on me.
- How many times were you threatened with the death penalty?
- Several, I couldn't even put a number to it. It seemed like it was an almost all the time thing. There were several times when they'd just walked by my cell and make comments about the death penalty. You know, just an idle conversation. When Jerry Dewitt and his wife would serve meals, Jerry would remind me that I was on a murder charge, and that I could get the death penalty, and they were going to try to put me on death row.
When I finally decided that me pleading guilty was the best out, my plea bargain was for no more than 15 years. I firmly believed I had been involved in this case. They-- I was totally sure I had killed this woman. I can see-- I could see me suffocating her just as clear as them telling me that I had put the weight of the pillow across her face and suffocate her while she was being raped.
- In 1989, JoAnn pled guilty to second degree murder. In 2008, the Beatrice 6 were exonerated by DNA. JoAnn served 19 years 7 months and 26 days in prison for a crime she did not commit.
- The most important thing is don't take false confessions for granted. They do happen. And people's lives are destroyed by it. And to know that everybody has a breaking point, because I know anybody in society all said, oh, I'd never confessed anything I didn't do.
But you don't know how much you can handle until your in that position. You don't know how much hammering or badgering a person can emotionally and mentally take, until you're actually in those shoes. I want to help others. I want to be an advocate somehow. I don't know how to be, but I'm going to find out.
- In July, 2014, five years after she first brought the suit, the Nebraska Supreme Court held the state liable for JoAnn's wrongful conviction. But she is still waiting to be compensated.
AMELIA C. HRITZ: The pieces that we just heard are really painful reminders that our justice system is imperfect. But even more to the point here, they are not isolated instances. I have discovered, and other people doing research have discovered, that there are really dozens and dozens, over 1,000 wrongful convictions.
[INAUDIBLE] the natural history of exonerations has been collecting information for the last 25 years, so we get a little bit of a sense of just how frequently people are wrongfully convicted. This is just the tip of the iceberg. But I think what you can see over this 25-year period of exonerations is we are discovering more and more cases in which people were wrongfully convicted.
Now one of the things that we saw in the two cases here that were presented so clearly to us is, there are issues relating to wrongful identification, mistaken eyewitness identification, and false confessions. In each of those cases, I mean it illustrated that that can happen. And you can see in the slide here that those are also contributing factors to other mistaken convictions in the case.
But also there are-- there is perjured testimony and wrongful accusations, sometimes given by co-defendants who, after they are after they testify, wind up with benefits following their testimony. In addition, forensic evidence can be misleadingly or falsely presented, as David Dunning reminded us with-- by referring to the FBI report released just this week.
And, finally, there can be official misconduct. Police and prosecutors are sure that they have the right person. And they may shade the testimony or engage in misconduct so as to ensure the conviction of the person they believe is actually to blame.
Now, one of the things that is true for me as a jury scholar, and one who has been studying the jury for many years, I look at this with great seriousness. Most of these cases of exoneration were done in jury trials. So the question for me as a scholar is, why would juries-- why is it that juries convict wrongfully and convict innocent people? And that's a question I want to talk about a bit with you today for this panel.
One of the-- I mean we've been using the jury for far longer than the 150 years Cornell has been around. It's a method that we've been employing to resolve disputes for centuries. And-- but the jury has really changed over the last 150 years. For example, in the pictures behind me, you'll see about 150 years ago a jury of kind of disaffected white men. And today's jury on the other side looks very different, at least visibly, looks very different.
One of the things that we have also been doing is systematic research. So over the last 50 years, we've started studying juries using empirical social science research methods. And we've learned quite a lot. And I think what we've learned sheds some light on the causes of wrongful convictions.
In these bookshelves of research, we find a number of insights. But the first insight, before I get to wrongful convictions, is to say that the research actually is reassuring about the jury in most cases. As you can see, there are a lot of strengths of the jury system. Partly that stems from the fact that juries are drawn from a cross-section of the population.
And, therefore, they have the opportunity to represent the different perspectives of the community as they reach their decision and discuss and debate. And that diversity also leads to more robust debate and vigorous debate, because not everybody agrees across the broad range of the community. So [INAUDIBLE] often lead to strong fact finding, especially when a jury is composed of 12 people, and it-- required to come to a unanimous verdict.
The research that I've done, and other scholars have done, also shows that in most cases juries do reach defensible verdicts. Verdicts where the strength of the evidence is the major determinant and major factor leading to a conviction or an acquittal. And the legal experts, trial judges presiding over jury trials, usually agree with most jury verdicts, especially jury convictions.
So the research, I think, suggests that juries are reasonably good fact finders in some cases. But, obviously, not all cases. And the research points to specific vulnerabilities. Now some of those vulnerabilities have to do with jury selection. We do an adequate selection from a broad range of the community. We have a narrower slice sitting on our juries. That might be one problem that leads to less than ideal, less than robust fact finding.
Another may be that courts sometimes restrict what we can do during jury selection to try to fully explore biases that individuals may hold before they are sworn in as jurors. And so, an adequate jury selection means that sometimes community biases are translated into jury biases. So one set of reasons for failures of the jury, I think, can be attributed to jury selection.
The other has to do with how juries make decisions. One of the things we've learned is that juries tend to arrange the evidence that they observe during a trial in the form of a narrative story. And as they are constructing the story of the trial, the story of the case, they sometimes see what they want to see. They fill in gaps. They resolve or ignore inconsistencies if it does not fit with the story that they are developing.
And so you can see how false information, false evidence, erroneous evidence, like a mistaken eyewitness identification, like a false confession, can affect all the other evidence in the case, and shift the perception of the evidence in the case, leading to a false flawed narrative, and then leading to an erroneous verdict.
One question that some people say is, well, if juries have these limitations, why don't we just have judges do it? Could judges do better? I don't think so. I say probably not. Research done at Cornell has also illuminated some of the approaches that judges take to fact finding. And it turns out judges are subject to many of the same kinds of psychological heuristics that the rest of us are. And what's more, they seem to be a bit more conviction prone.
So in research that I've conducted with colleagues, here and elsewhere, we find that having a judge as opposed to a jury decide the case based on exactly the same evidence leads to about a 12% increase in the likelihood of a conviction. So maybe getting rid of juries isn't the answer. But I think what the research does suggest are a number of things that we can do, and that people here on this panel, and our other colleagues here at Cornell and elsewhere, are working on.
One, we can try to strengthen the evidence we present to juries by doing work on eyewitness identification, proper police procedures, and a better understanding of how people understand this kind of evidence. So that's definitely one thing that we are doing here at Cornell, and we can continue to do.
The other thing that we have discovered is that there is something known as adversary bias. And if experts are aware of who the suspect is in a case, or what side they are testifying for, their evaluation of forensic evidence, supposedly independent, concrete, physical evidence, can be subtly shifted and shaped, and in a way that is unconscious, that operates unconsciously. So one remedy is to remove this form of adversary bias and have people evaluate this kind of evidence outside the-- outside the typical FBI labs, or at least in a way that removes information about who the suspect is.
So those are some of the things that we can do. But we need to know much more. The other thing we can do is to try to strengthen our jury system. Strong jury selection, as I've tried to argue here, I think is important to that. And also, understanding how to present evidence to juries is another way that we can improve the chances of juries reaching accurate and fair verdicts.
Understanding, educating jurors, the community, and our perspective lawyers and judges about some of the fallibility of human memory and human perception is going to be another thing, too. I mean Cornell's in the business of education. And that's definitely one of the things that we should be doing. And I think we'll continue to be doing in the years ahead.
But, the research that we're doing as part of our joint program is continuing and I hope we'll address the problems of mistaken convictions. Thank you.
STEPHEN CECI: Good afternoon. Mic, OK? Thanks. I'm Steve Ceci. I'm a developmental psychologist in the College of Human Ecology, the Department of Human Development. And in the mid-1970s, I was doing my doctoral research on children's recollections. And, in fact, I've continued almost four decades later with that same area of research, children's recollections. However, in 1984, I had what I think was a rather fateful telephone call.
A judge in New York State called me that year, and he asked me, what for him was a really simple question, but for me was a really difficult question. He had a case in his courtroom he told me where a 6-year old boy was the key eyewitness. And the case went something like this.
When this little boy was 22 months of age, his mother disappeared, and never returned. A few months after her disappearance, his father placed him with his mother's sister, his maternal aunt, and she proceeded to raise him. The father eventually left. He went to Florida. He remarried.
When this little boy turned six, the new owners of the house were excavating for a new addition in the back, and lo and behold, skeletal remains of the mother are located. Coroner rules she died by a blow of a blunt instrument to the cranium. The maternal aunt questions the boy as to what he can remember. And at first, the judge says, he doesn't remember anything. But over time, over repeated questionings, he starts to excavate shards of his memory.
Until finally, he puts it together. And he has this vessel assembled that's really quite elaborate. And so, the little boy tells the judge that when he was 22 months of age, he can now remember this really violent argument his parents had. They were screaming. His father reached for a baseball bat, and smacked his mother in the head with it. There was blood on the floor. His father grabbed his mother by both of her ankles, and he dragged her out the back screen door of the house.
And the judge's question to me was, how much confidence can I put in this little boy's memory? And I didn't know. At that point, I had been studying children's recollections for a decade. And I didn't know. And it really bothered me. So from that point on, I sort of changed the way I was doing children's memory research.
And I started trying to build in some of the contextual richness that actually happens in some of these court cases. So, obviously, in my 10 minutes, I can't take you through what is now 35 years of research. But I'm just going to show you one tidbit from an early experiment. It was done about 25 years ago. And the backdrop for this is a group of children ages 3 to 6 all witnessed the same event. It was a benign event, sort of.
A man named Sam Stone came to their preschool program. They were in story circle. He said, hi, then he moved to the housekeeping section of the classroom, and something happened. And later when the children are questioned, and they're questioned 12 weeks later, they tell stories that in some ways corroborate each other, and in other ways they are sort of 180 degrees different.
So I'm going to just show you a clip from three of the kids. The first little girl is 3. The next little girl is 4 and 1/2. And the third boy is 6. And you'll see what I mean about corroborating each other about some details, but disagreeing about others. See what you think.
- Well, I wasn't there that day, and I want to know everything that happened that day that Sam Stone came to visit.
- [INAUDIBLE] my teacher said to be careful with the dollies. And he-- and he-- and he put it up. Then the dollies, some-- some of them broked off.
- The doll-- some of them broke? The dollies ripped off? Really? Well, why did that happen?
- Because he was throwing it up and down.
- Oh, he was?
- And he was trying to catch it.
- Oh, really. Well, was he alone or was he with somebody else when he did that?
- He was alone.
- Oh, he was. Oh, wasn't he silly or did he do that on purpose?
- He was being silly.
- He was? Well, did he do anything else?
- He got-- then he got a book and he throwed it up. Then one of the pages ripped off.
- Then he throwed one of the toys in housekeeping--
- In housekeeping? He threw one of the toys in housekeeping? Up in the air? Is that right?
- No, no, no. He did it in the hallway.
- In the hallway? Oh, not in the classroom, in the hallway. Oh, I see. [INAUDIBLE] that he did.
- And then my teacher said, be careful with another dolly. And he did.
- And then he was careful when she said that. Well, did he say anything to her?
- Well, when your teacher saw that he was throwing things in the air, what did she say?
- That you need to go.
- You need to go?
- Yeah, because you kept on ripping our stuff.
- Oh, did you hear her say that?
- You did? You hear her say that? Well, did you see him do that? Did you see him throwing things up in the air?
- You did?
- And I saw him ripping stuff.
- You saw him ripping stuff?
- And-- and--
- Do you remember a bear the day Sam Stone came?
- Yeah. He spilled some chocolate ice cream on.
- He did? He spilled some-- did you see him do that?
- Can you tell me what happened in your own words?
- He did? He looked around?
- And then what happened?
- Then he went back out. Oh. Well, did Sam Stone do anything when he was there? He didn't?
- No. He just said, hi.
- He just said hi?
- Well, I heard something about a bear. Do you know anything about a bear? A teddy bear?
[CHILD SHAKES HEAD]
- No? Did anything happen that day with Sam Stone and a teddy bear?
[CHILD SHAKES HEAD]
- What about a book?
- OK. So did you see Sam Stone do anything?
- Do you remember that day that Sam Stone came visited your classroom?
- Well, I wasn't there that day. And I want to know what happened when he came to visit.
- Well, he was reading this book.
- But he didn't tear it at all.
- Oh, he didn't?
- Oh, really?
- Well, what else did he do when he was in the classroom?
- He was doing it so fast that he ripped one of the pages.
- Oh. And did he do anything else?
- Nope? Well, what about, ummmm, a bear, a teddy bear?
- Put some chocolate ice cream on that.
- He did? He put some chocolate ice cream on it?
- Who was with him when he did that?
- By himself. He was by himself.
- Oh, he did? Did anybody say anything to him when he did it? See
- No one.
- Oh, did he do that on purpose or by accident?
- Accident. He always does stuff by accident.
- Did you see him rip the book and put the ice cream on the bear?
- You did? You saw him do it. Yeah, well, when did you-- where did you see him?
- Well, I saw him out in the yard.
- With some ice cream.
- And he painted all over it, because he had a paint brush.
So, as I said, three kids all had the exact same experience, but they retell it quite differently from memory. Now, we've shown these video clips to literally thousands of professionals. And let me see if I can put one up here. And we've asked how confident they are as professionals-- these are all individuals that testify in court, or are judges-- so they're forensic psychiatrists, psychologists, and law enforcement who are trained to interview kids, family court judges, and so on.
And you can see that, you know, where 7 is extremely confident, they're really confident that he ripped at least a page in a book, that he soiled the Teddy bear with ice cream, that he was tossing something in the air. They're not confident about a lot of things. For example, whether he did it alone or with someone, whether he did it on purpose or whether it was an accident, and so on. You can ask yourselves, how confident you would be in these things.
But just to race ahead, he didn't do any of these things. He didn't tear, rip, soil, toss anything. And yet, thousands of professionals that watch these children insist that, while he may not have done all these things, he surely did some of them. Why is that? Because they're really quite compelling.
By the time these videos are made, these children have been interviewed four times over the first eight weeks following Sam Stone's visit. And for some of them, like the ones you just saw, they were subjected to various suggestive interviewing techniques that we, in Martha Van Rensselaer, in our lab, have developed over the years. And you can see the toll it takes.
They become really persuasive, because they developed these elaborate narratives that they actually come to believe. These aren't lies that the kids are telling. They actually believe it. And we have various methodologies that we and others have developed to demonstrate that these are actually false beliefs, not lies.
So how do we do it? Well, in every experiment we have lots of conditions, and this is no exception. But just to tell you two conditions. One is a control group. And the control group are there when Sam Stone comes and doesn't do any untoward things. They're interviewed four times over eight weeks.
Each time the interviewer says, I wasn't there. Tell me in your own words what happens. Then a month passes, the final interviewer, who you just heard, was Michelle Leichtman, a former doctoral student of mine, who went on to be a professor of Psychology at Harvard, and she's now a professor of Psychology University of New Hampshire. So Michelle says, I wasn't there. Tell me in your own words, everything you can remember.
And when this happens, the kids hardly ever make errors. They have 90% plus accuracy. You can see the youngest kids are 90% plus accurate, and the older kids are around 97% plus accurate. So there's nothing wrong with kids' memories at this age. They're up and running.
And they can do a great job, provided-- and here's the caveat-- provided that the adults who have access to them don't do certain things to taint their recollections. What kind of things? Well, we can ask them to image scenarios that were, in fact, fictitious. We can use false stereotypes, suggestive questioning, and things like this. So for another group of kids, that's exactly what we did.
In the four interviews over the first eight weeks, they were exposed to these kinds of suggestive interviewing techniques. And then four weeks later, at the 12th week mark, Michelle Leichtman says, I wasn't there. Tell me in your own words everything you can remember.
And when you do that, this is what you get. You get 71% of the youngest kids saying, Sam Stone did something, that, in fact, he didn't do. not just any something. They import from the suggestive techniques things like ripping a book or painting a white Teddy bear with chocolate ice cream.
Now every time a kid says something like that, you heard Michelle Leichtman say something. She said, did you see him do that? Because she's trying to source their memory. Is this something you saw with your own eyes? Or is this something someone told you? So when she does that, the error rate drops for the youngest kids from 71% to about 40%. So you're almost cutting it in half.
And then if they continue to say, he did it, and I saw him do it, she gently cross-examines them. And she says, it's really, really, really important that you only tell me about things that you really, really saw. It's OK to say you don't remember, et cetera. And when she does this, the error rate drops again.
So that red bar shows you that about one in five of the youngest kids, and about one in 12 of the oldest kids, are saying three things. They're saying, he did it. I watched him do it. And I'm really, really sure. All three children I showed you in the video clip came from this condition.
So there's a couple of take homes there. Not all kids succumb to it. The little girl in the middle was perfectly accurate. Interestingly, the slide I showed you earlier of 2,000 plus professionals, who got it wrong, insisted that the one child who was incorrect was that little girl in the middle.
And I can remember presenting this in San Francisco to a national meeting of child psychiatrists, and the audience-- there were about 700 psychiatrists in the audience-- and they were arguing with me. And they said, that second little girl is showing a lot of anxiety, because she's unable to tell you what she really knows happens. She's in denial. And I said, no, guys, you're in denial. She's just a shy kid. So this is something that fools professionals when kids themselves come to believe it.
Just to conclude, we've learned over these decades and Martha Van Rensselaer a lot of things. We've learned about factors associated with both accurate and inaccurate memory. We've learned how they unfold over developmental time. We've learned how kids can transition from initially a conscious lie to later a true false belief. That is, truly believing something that's actually false. We have discovered conditions where young kids' memories are better than older people, and a lot of other things. And so, I'm really heartened that, as I look ahead, at a time when I'm no longer actively doing research in this area, these scores, I think it's over 40 now, doctoral and post-doctoral students that I've trained in human development, and who are now professors all over North America and Europe, will be continuing this tradition, and extending our knowledge base.
And, finally, all of my children, all three of my daughters, have been Guinea pigs in all of my experiments. And two of them are here today. And I just want to acknowledge the two devil children who are here. And I apologize for messing you guys up. Thank you.
JOHN H. BLUME: OK, I'll be quick here. I'm John Blume, and I teach in the law school. And I also had the pleasure of supervising students in the JD PhD program, like Amelia, and students in our clinics, like Annie O'Toole, who's also here today. So I'm going to talk to you, I think, about eyewitness identification. I want to use this case real quickly to talk about it.
On March 29, 1991, a little more than 24 years ago, a man broke into the home of Lisa and William Sykes. He was armed. He was there for five to seven minutes. And he threatened to kill them and threatened to kill their dog. The police believe it was this man, Rudolph Young. And they arrested Rudolph Young.
And they put him in an in-person lineup, and Lisa Sykes said, yes, that's the man. And she testified at trial, I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that that's the man that robbed us. One little problem was, by her own admission, that's all she saw. The man's face and body were completely draped. And the only thing she could see was his eyes. That was it.
She could not help the police with the composite sketch. She did not pick Mr. young out of a photo lineup, which was the first thing that they showed him. She only picked him out in the in-person lineup when Mr. young was the only person that was also in the photo lineup was in the in-person lineup. And on that basis, Mr. Young was convicted of this home invasion, and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison, based upon that eyewitness identification.
Now he did win on his first appeal, because they excluded the testimony of an eyewitness identification expert in the case. And he went back for a new trial. And at the new trial, Mrs. Sykes was only able to testify, according to the law, if she could say that she could identify him not based on the photo lineup, not based on the in-person lineup, but solely on what she remembered from that day at her house, and excluding everything else, and the fact that she'd been in the courtroom with him for days.
And she again testified, there's absolutely no doubt in my mind that that's the man. I can put all those things out of my mind. And that's the man that robbed us. And so he was convicted again, and sentenced to 25 years to life again.
About five years ago, I was talking at a CLE, and a man came up to me, a man by the name of Brian Shiffrin, who ironically is the cousin of one of our faculty members. And he said, look, I represented this man on direct appeal. I don't think he did it. You know, will you help him? And I get lots of requests like that. And most of the times, the cases don't turn out to be quite as clean as the people who come to you do. But he sent me the record, and I read it. And I was appalled that somebody could be doing 25 years to life based upon that testimony.
And so my students and I sort of rolled up our sleeves and went to work. Mr. Young, at that time, didn't have a lawyer. He was representing himself pro se in Federal Court. And we went through with the assistance of our students, all the psychological literature and social science literature on eyewitness identification. And we were able to persuade a Federal judge that his trial had been unfair and to grant a new trial.
And then we were able to hold that in front of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. And the Supreme Court of the United States, just several months ago, decided not to hear the case with three judges, just as the court dissenting, and the charges against Mr. Young were dismissed. Because they had no case, right, without him.
So that sounds like a success story. And in many ways, it is, except for the 24 years that Mr. Young was in prison. But it's also a cautionary tale, because eyewitness identification procedures like the one that led to Mr. Young's conviction still exist, despite the fact that the research, which has been done around the country, shows that that can lead to wrongful eyewitness identifications.
Some places continue to do them despite the fact that we know how to do it better by having people not involved in the investigation participate in the eyewitness identification procedure, by showing people sequentially instead of in mass. Because when you show it in mass, the research shows, well, what it becomes is who looks most like the person that did it? A multiple choice test, which can be wrong.
So I think that both shows the work of the law students made a difference, but it also, I think, shows that we have a lot further to go if we want to prevent people, like Kirk Bloodsworth and Rudolph Young and the other people who've been talked about, be convicted for crimes that they didn't commit. Thank you.
DAVID DUNNING: [INAUDIBLE] we'll have some time for questions. Now, my understanding is we have some helpers who will wander around with microphones, because we will want to hear your questions. I saw right in the middle here first. They can choose between them.
AUDIENCE: My question has two parts. [INAUDIBLE] said, do you believe that our courtrooms no longer function under the motto, innocent until proven guilty, but rather, guilty until proven innocent, as we've seen in Mr. Bloodsworth's case? And if you-- and if so, do you think this is done in order to facilitate imposing blame as with those coerced into confession so to give an answer to the public and the victim's family?
JOHN H. BLUME: Anyone?
AMELIA C. HRITZ: Go ahead, John.
VALERIE P. HANS: Kirk, you have the most relevant experience.
KIRK BLOODSWORTH: In my case, I have to say that, you know, our system of justice is adversarial in nature. So that poses a big problem to the system itself, and especially when you have elected officials, and in my case, it was certainly they were trying to win. And when they-- but when you start manipulating the process by hiding evidence about another suspect that is where the line must be drawn.
And, of course, as John was talking about and this young lady on the end, if we, you know, and everybody up here, we can make tragic mistakes. And this whole system is human. In the end of the day, you know, we shouldn't-- we shouldn't be in the practice of doing it. I think it's really caused-- you know, I know to date there's 152 wrongful convictions from death row alone.
I don't know what we have to do. But I think, as Valerie was talking, we should-- we can't like do away with the jury system, I'm sure, but, you know, one thing we can do is like people are supposed to give, follow the rules, and do what we're supposed to.
And these things and these procedures, like John was talking about lineup procedures and all this procedural stuff, is very easy to, you know, to fix. I mean, it wouldn't cost us a penny actually to fix a lot of this stuff. And, you know, people make mistakes. And we run this whole thing. And we were talking about it in the Green Room that it's a human system. It's a great one, but at the end of the day, we're all just people.
JOHN H. BLUME: One of the tragedies that sometimes gets missed is when you convict the wrong person, there are two things that happen, right? One of which is somebody who didn't do a crime goes to prison. But the other thing that happens is the real perpetrator, the person that's actually the danger to society, is still out there-- is still out there able to either rob other people, or kill other people, or commit sexual assault, or whatever, you know, horrible crime.
So society pays a price on both sides of this equation by getting it wrong. And sometimes what you convict the wrong person, it makes it impossible to convict the right person, even if you identify who it is.
VALERIE P. HANS: Yeah, and let me just say add on the jury front. Surveys of jurors who have served have asked them, did you before you started this case have a presumption of innocence, or did you think this person who was being charged and who you whose case you were going to decide was probably guilty of something? And the majority say, probably guilty of something. You're going to have to prove it to me, but probably guilty of something.
So there's-- maybe that's one of the human-- that's part of the human element. You think, well, the person wouldn't be there if there wasn't some reason. And some of the problems of the criminal justice system that we've documented here by this panel, problems in police procedures and eyewitness identification procedures, are at that point hidden to the jury that then sees the evidence kind of clean and dressed up right in the courtroom. So, I think it is a problem we're going to have to continue to work on.
DAVID DUNNING: Yes, the person right next to had a question.
AUDIENCE: I worry about the-- I worry about the adversarial bias not between the prosecutor and the defense attorney, because we expect that there will be adversarial bias between those two people, but I worry about the adversarial bias with the experts that are brought in. How can you-- how do you deal with that? And how can you differentiate and analyze that?
VALERIE P. HANS: Some of the new research, maybe you can follow up, too, but some of the new research, for example, in forensic evaluation, has the expert do the evaluation without knowing whether they're evaluating something, whether it's the mental state or a hair match for, whether they're doing it for the defense or the prosecution. They just evaluate.
OK. So that might be one way to try to remove the adversarial bias from the act of evaluation. And so, people right now are trying to do research to fine-tune these kinds of procedures and start to implement them. But the FBI report that Dave began our session with shows that this has been a very serious problem for a long time.
STEPHEN CECI: Yeah, Can I just add to what you just said. Is the mic live? In my area, child witness area, this is a huge problem, because unlike the criminal areas that we've been hearing about, when there's a crime involving a child, especially a mass allegation crime, in a school, on a school bus, Girl Scout troop, Boy Scout troop, YMCA, et cetera, the deep pockets is the insurance company.
So the criminal stuff soon as that gets out of the way, there's often $30, $40 million in civil suits. So the insurance company underwrites part of the criminal defense. And they will buy the best experts that money can buy. And the prosecution will go toe to toe with them, or even better. And so you see this-- the cliche, the battle of the hired guns. And it's a real problem.
So people have proposed, for example, neutral experts, like some of the European countries, where the court appoints an expert. And the pressure isn't there to spin the data for one side or the other. But all of these have problems, constitutional problems, and other kinds of problems. So I doubt they're ever going to be adapted in my lifetime. But it is a huge problem.
DAVID DUNNING: Yes.
AUDIENCE: Yeah, I have two quick questions for Professor Hritz. First of all, is there any difference in recent years of exonerations between federal system and state systems. And the other side of that, related to that, is the racial breakdown of exonerations in recent years consistent with or correlates with the racial breakdown in the prison system?
AMELIA C. HRITZ: Can you answer that question?
JOHN H. BLUME: Pardon me?
AMELIA C. HRITZ: Can you answer that question?
JOHN H. BLUME: I can try. I don't need it. So, the majority of exonerations do come from the state court system. In proportional ways, I mean, there are more people who are incarcerated in the state court system, because the federal justice system is more limited. But it's even true sort of disproportionately they come from the state side. And then, I think the racial demographics of exonerations, it is disproportionately African-American, but we also imprison and incarcerate disproportionately, you know, African-Americans.
DAVID DUNNING: Anyone else? Any other questions? Yes.
AUDIENCE: Yes, thank you for your presentations today. Two questions I have. The first one relate to the number of exonerations that we have to make after the fact that we falsely convicted someone who's actually innocent. What strategies do you think we could implement nationally to ensure accountability with the jury system?
I think we've already determined that going to a judge system is not going to necessarily improve the likelihood that we would convict the right people. But what accountability could we place on the jury system to reinforce the idea that this is a very serious decision that have life consequences for individuals?
The second question relates to the research that was shown where the female, the little child in the middle, had the minority perspective. And I think that feeds into part of the problem that when you're on a jury system, if the majority are thinking like, that minority perspective may be ignored.
How do we ensure that the jury actually does their job in going through the process and considering all options, even if it's just one or two people who have the minority perspective of thinking maybe this person is indeed innocent?
KIRK BLOODSWORTH: I'd like to take the first part--
VALERIE P. HANS: Sure, sure.
KIRK BLOODSWORTH: Well, as far as the juries are concerned, I don't see how much you could admonish them to do the right thing, and to take it seriously. I think jurors, in general, try to take it as serious as they can. The accountability part, I think, should go to the charging authority. And that is the people who bring the charge, especially if they are manipulating the process by not giving a person information.
Then, like say, in my case, and many others, about a possible suspect or pulling police reports. And there have been-- that's just-- I don't want to say mild, but that's not even a tip of the iceberg. So I would say that, at some point, the accountability has to fall within the charging authority of the people who bring the charges.
VALERIE P. HANS: Yeah, and I would say on accountability, boy, we have really come a long way in just a couple of decades. I think before DNA was really a vehicle for opening people's eyes about the extent of the problem of wrongful conviction, I think most people laughed when a defendant said, oh, I'm innocent. And so, I think we've really made progress there.
And Innocence Projects in New York and elsewhere around the country, I think, initially really took a lot of cases, did investigations in a lot of cases, and with benefit of having DNA evidence to back it up, we're able to really convince judges and others that they had gotten the wrong person. But there is a new development that I've seen just recently, and that is some prosecutor's offices are now instituting what they call integrity units.
And the idea of the integrity unit is to, within the prosecutor's office, that very powerful part of the justice system, review old cases and investigate to see whether or not there are some systematic problems. So it's interesting that the hair match study that Dave mentioned actually came from police and FBI. So that came from the police and the prosecution side rather than the defense side and Innocence Project. So I think we're really shifting.
DAVID DUNNING: But doing that in concert with Innocence Project, and so forth.
VALERIE P. HANS: Exactly.
DAVID DUNNING: Doing it as a team.
VALERIE P. HANS: Exactly. Right.
DAVID DUNNING: Anyone else?
JOHN H. BLUME: I want to speak just for second to, I think, your point was that we need to have juries that are more racially diverse. And that's clearly true. I agree with that. More racially diverse juries are less likely to convict in shaky evidence cases against black defendants. The research sort of shows that. And on that, I think, there are a couple of things that we can and should do.
One of which is they need to change laws that disenfranchise people for life who've been convicted of any felony. Many states people can never vote again, so that really dilutes the pool of people who can be chosen. And also the courts need to take seriously the fact that you can't strike jurors because of their race.
We have the Supreme Court has said, you can't do it. But everybody knows people continue to do it on a widespread basis. And everybody just sort of, you know, turns a blind eye to it. So I think we could really eliminate that and create more racially diverse juries that would help on a number of fronts.
DAVID DUNNING: OK. Others? OK.
AUDIENCE: With respect to official misconduct, we have in Brooklyn, New York, a situation where a detective has, for over a quarter of a century, falsified evidence, and used informants that were liars. We have in the past also Troop K New York State Police, which have been found, over a course of a period of time, misusing evidence, and falsifying evidence in cases. It
Would seem that if, once the person is found to be innocent, then he sues the municipality or the state. And if it's found that the person did all of these things, well, then the state or the municipality is vicariously liable. And he's compensated. Prosecutorial discretion and judgment seem to immunize official misconduct.
Do you see any chance, since all these other things have been going on, that there might be accountability with respect to holding the prosecutor or the charging authorities responsible under criminal law so they would have a deterrent to doing the things they do?
KIRK BLOODSWORTH: Well, you know, certainly I would agree that it should be. I think that, you know, somebody had-- this is a big thing. A man or woman's life is held in the balance based on the information that's provided by the charging authority. And that should not be compromised in any way. And I have seen more cases, Michael Morton's case, the Duke Lacrosse Team case, and I could just sit here, we could have a conversation about that, just alone.
But I think that the only way that's going to happen has to be legislatively. I mean, when you have a Supreme Court Justice that says that innocence is not a constitutional right, then we have a problem. And we need to change these laws. And-- you know, if you don't follow by the rules, you can't-- you can't-- you can't do it right. And there's-- society suffers at the most. That's the way I feel about it.
JOHN H. BLUME: Right. I think, I mean Kirk's right. I mean, by and large, prosecutors have immunity. So they can't be sued, except unless you can show some type of intentionality, which is extraordinarily difficult to do. And I think most of the times it's not intentional. They're not trying to convict the wrong person. They just have blinders on about what happened.
But another thing that often gets overlooked in this, and I want to briefly mentioned it, is another way to sort of sweep things under the rug is to sort of force people who-- to plead guilty to things. For example, our clinic represented a guy who was on 33 years was on death row for a crime. Forensic evidence against him was totally destroyed during the appellate process.
A very conservative court of appeals, the Fourth Circuit, went through everything that was wrong with the evidence. But he'd been in 33 years. He had been tried three times, convicted to death three times, and sentenced to death three times for this crime. And so, when all this came to light, and the DNA evidence, you know, sort of proved that it wasn't him, the prosecutor said, look, here's what I'll do. If you plead guilty to this, you'll enter what's called an offered plea, I'll let you go tomorrow.
All right. If you don't, then, you know, it'll be a year or two before trial. And then you can go to trial again, and we'll see what a jury does. But if you will just plead guilty, you don't have to admit you did it, I'll let you go to tomorrow. Well, what did he do? He did 33 years. You know, his faith in the jury system is a little shaky, you know, being convicted three times for something you didn't do.
So, you know, he's out, but he's one of what I call-- I wrote an article about this called, The Unexonerated-- people who plead guilty, because of fear of these draconian regimes. He'll never be able to vote. He's a convicted murderer. He does have his freedom, but that's a hell of a price to pay for it. And I think until we sort of take these things more seriously and are willing to admit the system can make mistakes, we're continuing to kind of nibble around the edges of a really large systemic problem.
AMELIA C. HRITZ: I also wanted to mention JoAnn Taylor's been fighting for years for her-- for compensation for her wrongful conviction. And the state argued that she was to blame because she had confessed. And so, in her civil case, the social science research was actually really helpful. And Richard [? Liow ?] testified and said that she wasn't to blame because she really believed she had done it. And so he had to explain how her memory was corrupted by all these interrogations. And so the research actually really helped her in that case.
JOHN H. BLUME: It's a twisted view of blame.
DAVID DUNNING: Don't see where the microphone went.
JOHN H. BLUME: Somebody in the back, I think.
DAVID DUNNING: OK. OK. Yes, go ahead.
AUDIENCE: OK. So, thank you. Thank you for presentations. There was something very hopeful and optimistic in all the presentations in the sense that if we conduct a proper research and apply it and reform our criminal procedures accordingly, we might be able to minimize or to prevent many future wrongful convictions. And my question is, to what extent we can be that optimistic?
So looking at that kind of existing database of previous generations, do you find any cases in which the procedure was adequate, and there was no kind of obvious fault, that any of that kind of jury formation or criminal procedure itself, and to what extent, I mean, are you aware or maybe worked with cases in which, if there was a DNA exoneration eventually, but if you looked at a case previously without knowing that, it would seem that it was handled properly from the perspective of the criminal justice system?
VALERIE P. HANS: I took a look at the exoneration cases from the National Exoneration Registry and, typically, there were contributing factors of the sort that we've been talking about here, a mistaken identification, perjured or false testimony, false confessions, misleading presentation of forensic evidence, or some sort of official misconduct. But one of the things I wanted to point out is that actually often the cases in which later there is an exoneration, a number of those factors are present.
So some-- one thing that might be happening is one piece of evidence is flawed and, again, shifts the perception of other evidence in the case might encourage the official misconduct, and so on. So, I think, far from cases with no contributing factors, there are often cases with multiple contributing factors, all of which create a perfect storm, and lead to a false conviction.
DAVID DUNNING: Yes, I believe this might be our last question.
AUDIENCE: Recently we've seen a lot more cases or evidence where the media is interviewing juries after the fact and request for confidential grand jury testimony to be released. Do you see any evidence or feeling that that will change jury behavior if they know that that discussion might become public instead of remaining private?
VALERIE P. HANS: It's a big discussion among the jury research community, actually. I think that juries are actually, I mean, they kind of want to explain what it is that they did, and what they were talking about and thinking about. We do protect the jury decision making by having the deliberation confidential. And juries don't have to write out a list of reasons for convicting.
And so, in a time period where we want explanations for decisions, I think some of the reason that juries go and do interviews is because they want to explain what it is they did. They believe that they were right. But-- but I think there is the concern that it might influence what people are willing to say during the deliberation. Yeah. So, again, it's a lively discussion and debate. No answers yet.
DAVID DUNNING: Yes, anyone else? Well, we've reached the end of our time. But, hopefully, not at the end of our thoughts about this. I'd like to thank the panel. I want to thank the audience. And I want to wish everybody a terrific Charter weekend.
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Panelists: Valerie Hans, professor of law; Stephen Ceci, the Helen L. Carr Professor of Developmental Psychology; Kirk Bloodsworth project director of Witness to Innocence; Amelia Hritz, PhD/JD candidate, developmental psychology and law; John Blume, professor of law and director of the Cornell Death Penalty Project; and David Dunning, professor of psychology.