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Confirmation Bias and Other Systemic Causes of Wrongful Convictions: A Sentinel Events Perspective

NCJ Number
Date Published
46 pages
This article discusses a National Institute of Justice-funded research project that was designed to develop a more comprehensive understanding of howas opposed to why wrongful convictions occur.
Wrongful convictions are a form of criminal investigative failure. Such failures are sentinel events that signal underlying structural problems within a weak system environment. Similar to transportation or medical accidents, they are often the result of multiple and co-occurring causes; however, unlike the response to an airplane crash, the criminal justice system typically makes little effort to understand what went wrong. These failures tend to be ignored and systemic reviews are rare. As a consequence, important necessary procedural changes and policy improvements may not occur. The current study deconstructed 50 wrongful convictions and other criminal investigative failures in order to identify the major causal factors, their characteristics and interrelationships, and the systemic nature of the overall failure. The discussion focuses on the central role played by confirmation bias and other thinking errors. (publisher abstract modified)

Date Published: January 1, 2019