Criminal Justice System Needs An Overhaul

From Rough Justice: An interview with Innocence Project co-founder Peter Neufeld in the June 6 issue of The New Scientist:

The US criminal justice system needs an overhaul to make it more scientific, more reliable, and ultimately more just. That's the view of lawyer Peter Neufeld, famous for his role as part of the defence team in the OJ Simpson murder trial. In 1991 Neufeld co-founded the Innocence Project, which uses DNA evidence to free the wrongly convicted. It has mushroomed into a civil rights movement and spawned numerous similar projects around the world. Rachel Nowak visited Neufeld in New York to find out what criminal justice can learn from science.

On the Number of Exonerations:

Since we started post-conviction DNA testing in the US, 130 people have been exonerated in total, including 12 people who had been languishing on death row. The Innocence Project was counsel for about 65 per cent of them.

On False Confessions:

The Innocence Project was involved in the case of the Central Park jogger in which five teenagers were exonerated of rape after serving up to 12 years in gaol. They had all admitted to the crime...

That was extraordinary because they even had their parents in the room part of the time. But the police are very good at what they do. In this country they are allowed to use trickery during the interrogation. You tell people, "Your buddies have already told us you did it. We're going to make you the heavy unless you tell us that you were on the sidelines and that it was really your buddies that did it." And they go, "OK. I'll give you that." Twenty-five per cent of our cases involve false confessions. In other countries, they require the entire interrogation, not just the confession, to be tape-recorded, but not here.

On What Else Needs Changing:

The way identifications are conducted. When the victim looks at line-ups or photo arrays, studies indicate that if the perpetrator is not in the group, the victim will make a relative selection. She will say to herself: who among these six pictures looks most like the fellow who assaulted me? One way to remedy that is to show one picture at a time, or in line-ups to make one person come out at a time.

There's lots more, so go read the whole thing.

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