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The impact of Human Factors on Wrongful Convictions
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. Learn more.
Healing Justice Art Projects
OIP collaborated with Healing Justice Project and Chagrin Arts to create a virtual gallery of the art created by the original victims of crimes at issue in wrongful conviction cases, the people who were wrongfully convicted, and families of both. The art comes in four forms, described below.
The Masks We Wear: We all develop self-protective disguises at times to bury pain, hide our vulnerable selves from the world, and protect ourselves from getting hurt again. These "masks" evolve from emotional injuries or traumas that occur throughout our lifetimes, and we sometimes wear them so long that we forget our true selves, that part of us that was whole before we were broken. Creating physical representations of our masks offers a safe way to express why we don these disguises in the first place, and provides us the freedom to remove them and begin healing.
If You Could Walk in My Shoes: Journeys that involve deep trauma are complicated, often invisible, and usually cover many miles. During the steps taken on those journeys, much of what we dreamed of and hoped for becomes lost while, simultaneously, new and unexpected things are gained. This project creates a “view” from the walker’s shoes and thereby invites the outside world to better understand the experiences of those who have suffered—and overcome—unimaginable harm.
Our Story Stones: Rocks are often synonymous with burdens. Like the burdens we carry throughout our lives, rocks have both weight and meaning attached to them. This project asks the artist to think about their burdens as chapters in their life’s story: How much weight do they carry, and what do they express? As the participant begins to think in these ways, the stories unfold with color and words, allowing the artist to illustrate and reveal the journey from beginning to end.
The Lost and Found Box: When a person experiences long and complicated harm, such as trauma caused by a wrongful conviction, their hearts suffer many griefs and losses. But often these griefs and losses are accompanied by unexpected gifts, such as new friendships, loving memories, and emotional strength that would not otherwise have been discovered. This project asks the question, What did your heart lose? What did your heart find?
Black Robes, Black Lives: The Duty of the Courts to Understand and Address Systemic Racism
OIP Welcomes Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor.
Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor is the 10th chief justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio and the first woman to lead the state’s judicial branch. Elected twice as a justice and twice as chief justice, she has served as a private lawyer, magistrate, common pleas judge, prosecutor and Ohio lieutenant governor and Director of the Department of Public Safety. Chief Justice O’Connor has led many substantial judicial reforms, in Ohio and nationally, including a focus on the impact of fines, fees, and bail practices on the poor that led to substantial rule changes in Ohio in 2020. Her ongoing initiatives include data collection and racial fairness in the court system, conviction reform, expansion of technological innovation in the courts, improved civic education for school children, citizen awareness in judicial elections, and increased funding for civil legal aid efforts. Chief Justice O’Connor also is a regional and national leader on governmental responses to America’s drug epidemic.
On November 12, 2020, Chief Justice O’Connor was the keynote speaker at the annual Friends of OIP program. Her remarks focused on the courts’ duty to understand and address systemic racism in the criminal justice system.
The OIP's East Cleveland 3: Wrongful Convictions and Exonerations
Ohio Summit on Wrongful Convictions
- Session 1: Welcomes by Cuyahoga County Prosecuting Attorney Michael O’Malley and Dean Robert Scharf, Case Western Reserve University School of Law and Special Guest Mr. Rickey Jackson (Exonerated Cerson)
- Session 2: Opening Remarks by Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor, Supreme Court of Ohio (Introduction by Dean Verna Williams, University of Cincinnati College of Law)
- Session 3: Why Does it Happen? The Causes of Wrongful Conviction. Panel Moderator: Mark Godsey, Director of OIP; Panelists: Rebecca Brown, Director of Policy, Innocence Project, NYC; Chief William Brooks of the Norwood (MA) Police Dept., Carmen Naso, Sr. Instructor in Law, Case Western Reserve University College of Law, and Russell Tye, Director, Conviction Integrity Unit, Cuyahoga County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office
- Session 4: Prosecutors' Perspectives Prosecutors Discussion about Wrongful Convictions. Panel moderator: Russell Tye, Director, Conviction Integrity Unit, Cuyahoga County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office; Panelists: David Angel, Asst. Dist. Attorney, Santa Clara (CA) District Attorney’s Office, Dawn Boswell, Director, Conviction Integrity Unit, Tarrant County (TX) District Attorney’s Office, Cynthia Garza, Special Fields Bureau Chief, Dallas County (TX) District Attorney’s Office; Mark Hale, Unit Chief, Conviction Review Unit, Kings County (NY)
- Session 5: Starting Points Innovative Approaches to Wrongful Convictions. Panel Moderator: Mark Godsey; Panelists: Lindsay Guice Smith, Executive Director, North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission, State’s Attorney Michael G. Nerheim, Lake County, IL; Beth Tanner, Assistant Direcotr, North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission
- Session 6: Ethical and Professionalism Aspects of Wrongful Convictions Joseph Caliguiri, Chief Assistant Disciplinary Counsel, Office of Disciplinary Counsel (OH)
- Session 8: Why Choose To Go To The Moon? Patricia Cummings, Chief, Conviction Review Unit, Philadelphia (PA) District Attorney’s Office