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Experts Tipsheet

Wrongful convictions


Television shows like "inJustice" and the documentary "After Innocence" have intensified public interest in miscarriages of justice. UCI criminologists and psychologists continue to conduct significant research into many of the causes of wrongful conviction and identifying possible ways to reform the criminal justice system and better train legal and law enforcement professionals.


January 2006

The Malleability of Memory Can Taint Eyewitness Testimony
Fingerprinting and the Fallibilities of Criminal Identification
DNA Evidence: Use and Misuse in the Court
Wrongful Conviction and Public Policy
Children’s Testimony and Involvement in Legal Proceedings


The Malleability of Memory Can Taint Eyewitness Testimony

Distinguished Professor Elizabeth Loftus, a pioneer in false memory research, is a major force in UCI’s growing group of psychologists and criminologists looking at the causes of wrongful conviction. Her research over the past three decades indicates that memory is highly susceptible to distortion and contamination and that people can be influenced to remember common experiences that have not actually occurred. Loftus has examined numerous claims of repressed memory in court that have turned out to be highly dubious or false. She also has explored the memories of eyewitnesses whose accounts are sometimes inaccurate and have led to the conviction of innocent people. Loftus was recently elected as a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and she was named by the Review of General Psychology as one of the top 100 psychologists of the 20th century. Contact Elizabeth Loftus at (949) 824-3285, 3297 or eloftus@uci.edu.


Fingerprinting and the Fallibilities of Criminal Identification

“The relevant question isn’t whether two fingerprints could ever be exactly alike. It’s whether they are ever similar enough to fool a fingerprint examiner.”

Simon Cole, assistant professor of criminology, law and society, is the author of Suspect Identities: A History of Fingerprinting and Criminal Identification, a comprehensive examination of criminal identification and particularly the rise of fingerprinting in the nineteenth century. Cole argues that the public and criminal justice system have a blind and dangerous faith in the infallibility of science and technology. In addition to his research, Cole has testified as an expert witness in hearings on the admissibility of fingerprint evidence. His current interests include the development of criminal identification databases and examining such biometric technologies as DNA, fingerprints, eye scanning, voice recognition and face recognition. Contact Simon Cole at (949) 824-1443 or scole@uci.edu.


DNA Evidence: Use and Misuse in the Court


“DNA has the potential to do amazing good, but it’s not always definitive. Police labs should adopt the same scientific rigor that’s employed by researchers in academic labs.”

William Thompson, professor of criminology, law and society, is a recognized expert on the use of forensic evidence in court and most recently assisted the much-publicized case of Josiah Sutton in Texas – a man whose rape conviction was overturned because of the mishandling and abuse of DNA evidence. (The case subsequently resulted in disciplinary actions for nine Houston Police Department crime laboratory employees.) An attorney trained in psychology, Thompson was a member of O.J. Simpson's defense team. He has raised concerns nationally about procedures used to interpret forensic DNA tests. Thompson has also studied the use in trials of hearsay and character evidence and the testimony of children. Contact William Thompson at (949) 824-6156, 5575,  or wcthomps@uci.edu.


Wrongful Conviction and Public Policy

C. Ronald Huff is dean of UCI's School of Social Ecology, a fellow and past-president of the American Society of Criminology, and a noted expert on criminal justice public policy. Huff is the author of Convicted but Innocent: Wrongful Conviction and Public Policy. He has formed an international network of criminologists and psychologists to study wrongful conviction across nations and various types of justice systems, and he co-led the first international workshop on wrongful conviction in Switzerland in 2003. From 1979 to 1999, Huff served as director of the Criminal Justice Research Center at The Ohio State University, where he also directed the School of Public Policy and Management from 1994 to 1999. He currently serves on the California Attorney General's Research and Policy Advisory Board. Contact Ronald Huff at (949) 824-6094 or
rhuff@uci.edu.


Children’s Testimony and Involvement in Legal Proceedings

Alison Clarke-Stewart, professor of psychology and social behavior and associate dean of research in the School of Social Ecology, has been interested in children's testimony since the days of McMartin Preschool. She has studied the effects of biased interrogations and leading questions on the accuracy of children's reports and investigated individual differences in children's suggestibility.  She has also testified in court on issues of suggestibility.  She is a fellow of the American Psychology Society and the American Psychological Association and is currently working on a book to inform parents and teachers about how to avoid wrongful accusations of child abuse. Contact Alison Clarke-Stewart at (949) 824-7191, 5574 or
acstewar@uci.edu.

Jodi Quas, assistant professor in psychology and social behavior, studies memory development in early childhood and children's involvement in the legal system. She examines how children cope with and remember stressful events; interview strategies that facilitate and impede children’s eyewitness abilities; jurors' perceptions of child witnesses; and the consequences of legal involvement on child victims. Quas’ recent work focuses on maltreated children’s involvement in dependency proceedings, particularly methods of reducing distress and improving their participation. She recently co-edited Memory and Suggestibility in the Forensic Interview and serves on federally funded task forces regarding children and the law. Contact Jodi Quas at (949) 824-7693 or jquas@uci.edu.


Related Links

School of Social Ecology

Criminology, Law & Society

Psychology & Social Behavior

Contact

Christine Byrd
(949) 824-9055
cbyrd@uci.edu

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