If you have ever had a client who was wrongfully convicted and wondered why it felt nearly impossible to exonerate him, or if you are a post-conviction lawyer interested in learning more about potential pitfalls in your practice, this book is for you. Mark Godsey is co-founder of the Ohio Innocence Project. In his book, he describes the psychological phenomena that lead even “good people” to commit injustices that result in the incarceration of innocent people.
Before becoming an innocence lawyer, Godsey was a federal prosecutor. He draws on that experience as well as scientific research to demonstrate how police, prosecutors, judges, and even defense counsel often turn a blind eye to injustice.Godsey discusses at length five psychological conditions that blind us to injustice: cognitive dissonance, confirmation bias, misattribution, blind intuition, and tunnel vision. Here are my notes on each phenomenon, as explained by Godsey.
These psychological phenomena, coupled with certain categories of evidence that are systematically corrupted (eyewitness identification, confessions, the widespread use of incentivized testimony/”snitches,” and certain forensic disciplines) lead to wrongful convictions.
Godsey explains there is a snowball effect that occurs where a single errant piece of evidence can eventually lead to a wrongful conviction, due to the confluence of the psychological phenomena.
To improve the criminal justice system, Godsey suggests the system recognize that humans are flawed, and implement structural and procedural changes to compensate for our psychological flaws. Finally, he encourages innocence lawyers to remember that change happens gradually, and that each one of us is helping to shift the tides of change.