Advanced Criminal Law: Convicting the Innocent
Professor James R. Elkins College of Law
West Virginia University|Fall|2016|



Police Investigation, Techniques, and Culture Lead to Wrongful Convictions


Police misconduct is reportedly, a factor in 50% of the DNA exonerations.

--Police and Prosecutorial Misconduct, Wrongful Convictions course website, Prof. Ellen Y. Suni, University of Missouri-Kansas City

[Excerpt from James McCloskey, "Convicting the Innocent" (McCloskey is the Direcctor of Centurion Ministries, Inc.]: "Because police work is fraught with so many different kinds of pressures, it is rather easy for an investigation to go awry. The high volume of violent crime plagues every urban police department. Skilled detectives are few, and their caseloads are overwhelming. The "burnout" syndrome is a well-documented reality within police ranks. Interdepartmental politics and the bureaucracy stifle initiative and energy. The pressure to "solve" a case is intensely felt by the line detective and comes both from his superiors and the community and from his own ambitious need for recognition and advancement. If today's climate of "burn or bury" them puts more pressure on the detective to resolve, it also gives him more license to do so by whatever means. Too often, as a result of the above factors, police officers take the easy way out. Once they come to suspect someone as the culprit, and this often occurs early within the investigation and is based on rather flimsy circumstantial information, then the investigation blindly focuses in on that adopted "target." Crucial pieces of evidence are overlooked and disregarded. Some witnesses are not interviewed who should be, while others are seduced or coerced into telling the police what they want to hear. Evidence or information that does not fit the suspect or the prevailing theory of the crime is dismissed as not material or is changed to implicate the suspect. Good old-fashioned legwork is replaced by expediency and shortcuts. Coercive confessions are extracted and solid leads are ignored. Before too long, momentum has gathered, and the "project" now is to put it on the suspect. Any information that points to the suspect, no matter how spuriously secured, is somehow obtained; and anything that points away from him is ridiculed and twisted into nothingness. The task is made much easier if the suspect has a police record because he should be "taken off the streets'' anyhow. That kind of person is not only a prime suspect but also a prime scapegoat."

Class Video

Misconduct by Prosecutors or Law Enforcement
[2:22 mins.]

Errol Morris on Confirmation Bias
[5:03 mins.] [Errol Morris made the ground-breaking documentary, "Thin Blue Line"] [discussion of the Jeffrey MacDonald case; Morris is the author of A Wildnerness of Error: The Trials of Jeffrey MacDonald (New York: Penguin Press, 2012)]

Texas Case: Corrupt Investigator
[14:44 mins.] Pt 2 [14:14 mins.] Pt3 [14:44 mins.]

Reference| Web Resources (Tunnel Vision)

The Problem of Tunnel Vision in Criminal Justice
[Keith Findley, Innocence Project]

Tunnel Vision in the Criminal Justice System
[Psychology Today, May 25, 2010]

Cognitive Tunnel Vision Biases and Their Detrimental Affect on Prosecutorial Evidentiary Evaluation [Freeing Jesse Friedman]

Tunnel Vision
[Friends of Justice website]

Case Study (Jeffrey Deskovic)

Report on the Conviction of Jeffrey Deskovic
[New York, 2007, prepared for the Westchester County District Attorney]

Case Study (David Thorne & Joe Wilkes)

David Thorne & Joe Wilkes
[17:00 mins.] [Alliance, Ohio murder case]

Case Study (Brenton Butler)

Brenton Butler

Case Study (Michael Tillman)

Michael Tillman: The Torture and Conviction of an Innocent Man
[32:36 mins.] [tortured by Chicago police]

Case Study (Scott Hornoff)

Miscarriage of Justice
[14:19 mins.] Pt 2 [14:00 mins.] Pt3 [14:01 mins.]

After Innocence
[24:31 mins.] [audio]

Case Study (Joe D'Ambrosio)

Joe D'Ambrosio: Life After Death Row
[5:32 mins.] [OneForTen Films] [narrated by Damien Echols] [prosecutorial misconduct; failure to disclose exculpatory material in police, prosecutor, and cornor's files] [police misconduct] [ineffective assistance of counsel]

Death Row Stories
[42:23 mins.]

[1:05 mins.]

Joe D'Ambrosio exonerated from death row
[1:29 mins.]

Priest helped free death row inmate
[4:20 mins.]

The Death Penalty in our Penal System
[48:25 mins.] [Fr. Neil Kookoothe and Joe D'Ambrosio; [D'Ambrosio's comments begin at 4:15 mins.]

Reference (Videos)

Cop Admits To Framing 185 Innocent People
[1:08 mins.]

Paul Ciolino's high-profile criminal investigations
[36:00 mins.]

Police Interrogations

Michael Dunn explains shooting of Jordan Davis
[5:30 mins.] The Interview [57:56 mins.] Pt2 [34:21 mins.]

Chuck Erickson: Police Interrogation Video [9:53 mins.] Pt.2: Ryan Ferguson [8:50 mins.] Pt.3: Ryan Ferguson case [2:36 mins.] Pt.4 [5:58 mins.] Free Ryan Ferguson [3:38 mins.]

Robert Springsteen
[2:45 mins.]

Laura Hall
[2:45 mins.]

Alleged Police Handling of Computer Evidence

Hearing on Police Allegedly Destroying Evidence
[12:23 mins.] Pt2 [13:53 mins.] Pt3 [7:34 mins.] Pt4 [14:56 mins.] [Brad Cooper was convicted of 1st degree murder in 2011. The North Carolina Court of Appeals overturned the conviction in 2013. Brad Cooper plead guilty to 2nd degree murder to avoid a 2nd trial.] Defense contends Google Maps Search Was Planted on Defendant's Computer [13:23 mins.] Hearing on Discovery Violations [9:13 mins.] Pt2 [11:04 mins.] Computer Testimony the Jury Didn't Hear [12:18 mins.] Pt2 [13:55 mins.] Brad Cooper Trial Summary [13:09 mins.] Pt2 [14:59 mins.]

Police Brutality: Jon Burge

Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge Convicted Of Lying About Torture [9:03 mins.] Darrell Cannon gave the police a false confession] [Cannon was exonerated in 2004.]

Police Torture Chicago Style: Darrell Cannon, Anthony Holmes and Flint Taylor Speak Out [15:07 mins.]

Jon Burge 2007 Video Viewed by City Council [17:03 mins.]

Ronald Kitchen: Tortured, Framed, Then Sentenced to Death [36:30 mins.]

Case History Compilation by The Chicago Torture Justice Memorial Project [13:36 mins.]

Reference: The Struggle for Justice in the Chicago Police Torture Cases


Keith A. Findley & Michael S. Scott, The Multiple Dimensions of Tunnel Vision in Criminal Cases, 2006 Wis. L. Rev. 291 [online text]