The window to enact criminal-justice reforms aimed at preventing wrongful convictions is closing because fewer defendants are being found guilty erroneously, says Jon Gould, an administration of justice faculty member at George Mason University. Gould, who was chair of Virginia’s Innocence Commission, spoke yesterday about his new book: “The Innocence Commission: Preventing Wrongful Convictions and Restoring the Criminal Justice System.” In Gould’s view, increased use of DNA evidence and spreading techniques such as video-recording interrogations are helping prevent criminal cases from going wrong. That will reduce the pressure for further justice-system reforms, he believes.
Despite the improvements, the problem of wrongful convictions remains, Gould says. No one knows for sure, but the justice system error rate may be one or two percent. Gould does not believe that police and prosecutors deliberately pursue wrong suspects. Rather, he says, “people of good intention make errors that can have tragic consequences.” Among major causes of mistaken convictions are inaccurate witness identification, false confessions, abusive interrogation, bad information from jailhouse snitches, and “tunnel vision” of investigators who pursue erroneous hunches. Gould spoke at an event sponsored by The Constitution Project.