Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2014, $389,690)
Statement of the Problem
Wrongful convictions and other criminal investigative failures are often the product of systemic weaknesses. Similar to airplane accidents, multiple things must go wrong at the same time for such events to occur. A criminal investigative failure is a sentinel event, a significant negative outcome that may signal an underlying structural problem. It is often the product of multiple small errors within a weak system environment. Comprehensive analyses of sentinel events can provide a critical understanding of the underlying causes of such failures. Here, we propose examining criminal investigative failures, including wrongful convictions, and conducting case deconstructions to reveal the type, nature, and relationships between the various contributing causal factors.
Research Design and Methods
This project would study criminal investigative failures, including wrongful convictions, with the goal of understanding how they happened. The research would determine the causal factors, analyze how these related to and interacted with each other, and outline the systemic nature of the overall failure. We would first review appropriate cases to identify those with sufficient available information to deconstruct the failure and provide an understanding of what went wrong. Information sources would include trial transcripts, government reports, public inquiries, commission investigations, scholarly studies, independent reviews, interviews, and media coverage.
As part of the case deconstruction, factors in the failure would be identified and grouped according to primary (proximate), or secondary/tertiary (supporting) causes. They would be further classified as personnel issues (tunnel vision, inexperience), organizational problems (groupthink, insufficient agency resources), or situational features (stranger crime, negligible community cooperation). Concept maps would be built so that the relationships and interactions between these causes could be graphically displayed and analyzed in causal factor networks. We would adopt tools and methods from content analysis and network analysis to help us evaluate the information available.
Once all the individual cases have been analyzed, we would conduct a group-level analysis to identify larger patterns of systemic causes and interrelationships, using a triangulated qualitative and quantitative approach. Information on how the failure was initially discovered would also be reviewed and recorded. Finally, we would use the results of the individual- and group-level analyses and the failure discovery review as the basis for suggesting improvements in criminal justice policies and organizational procedures.
Products, Reports, and Data Archiving
Interim and final reports would be submitted to NIJ. Original case materials, research data, and analytic products would be submitted for data archiving. ca/ncf
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