The Impact of Human Factors on Criminal Investigations

A series of seven video resources explaining the dynamics that frequently lead to wrongful convictions.

Created by the Ohio Innocence Project and the Innocence Project. Co-sponsored by the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Innocence Network.

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The Impact of Human Factors on Criminal Investigations

Mark Godsey.

Mark Godsey, co-founder and director of the Ohio Innocence Project.

Justice is our goal as Americans, but it is not always our reality, particularly in the criminal justice system. 

Those of us who work in the innocent movement devote our careers to helping people who have been wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for crimes they did not commit.  One of the most common questions we hear when people learn about wrongful convictions is “How can this happen?” The answer to that question is both simple and complex: wrongful convictions occur because we are human. 

In some wrongful conviction cases, a person acts with hatred, bias, or fear to help ensure that an innocent person is convicted. But much more frequently, wrongful convictions occur when well-intentioned, honest, intelligent people make mistakes. 

As humans, we make mistakes each day. Our memories may fail, our perceptions may be faulty. We may be distracted or confused, or misled by suggestions of others. Usually, our mistakes cause us little more than embarrassment and inconvenience.

But sometimes we make mistakes when we serve as jurors or witnesses, as experts or investigators, or as judges, prosecutors, or defense attorneys. Those mistakes can have grave consequences.

We cannot stop being human, but we can learn from our mistakes. 

Rickey Jackson

Mark Godsey, left, with exoneree Rickey Jackson, center, and Brian Howe, OIP staff attorney, left.

International experts in psychology, criminal justice, law, forensics, and an array of hard and social sciences study human error and help us understand our mistakes.  Because we can’t make these talented and dedicated people available to everyone at once, the Innocence Project and the Ohio Innocence Project, in collaboration with the Innocence Network and the International Police Chiefs Association, created a series of informational videos, The Impact of Human Factors on Criminal Investigations, to help you understand the phenomena that cause wrongful convictions.   

You can watch videos in the playlist above, or watch individual videos on Youtube:

  • Eyewitness Identification, Dr. Jennifer Dysart, Associate Professor of Psychology, John Jay College of Criminal Justice
  • Confirmation Bias, Dr. Sherry Nakhaeizadeh, Researcher, University College London, Department of Security and Crime Science
  • Tunnel Vision, James Trainum, Homicide Detective (Ret.), Metropolitan (D.C.) Police Department 
  • Memory Malleability, Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Social Behavior, UC Irvine
  • Lie Detection and Demeanor Evidence, Dr. Par-Anders Granhag, Professor of Psychology, University of Gothenberg, Sweden
  • Implicit Bias, Professor L. Song Richardson, Dean and Professor of Law, UC Irvine, School of Law
  • False Confessions, Dr. Saul Kassin, Distinguished Professor of Psychology, John Jay College of Criminal Justice

In each video in this series, a leading expert discusses a particular way in which a human makes a mistake that can lead to a wrongful conviction. Those mistakes may be the result of our malleable memories, or our inability to process all stimuli in a stressful situation. Sometimes we become blinded to facts or evidence that might impact the validity of our beliefs about a particular suspect or piece of evidence. Under certain circumstances, we can come to accept as true something we know to be false. 

Please take the time to watch these videos and to learn about the causes of wrongful conviction and enlighten others about them. After all, we are all human.  

To learn more about wrongful convictions, visit the Ohio Innocence Project.