Expert Testimony and the Potential for Its Abuse

Below is my research paper for my Criminal Evidence class. Reminder: this paper is in Turnitin so if you plagerize it, you will be caught. There are some really good sources, so use those when doing your own research. Comments always welcome!


Expert Testimony and the Potential for Its Abuse

Reagen Dandridge Desilets

Trident Technical College

CRJ236 Criminal Evidence (W04)

November 25, 2014


Many people rely on expert testimony to help clear up parts of criminal cases that the average lay person may not understand. Psychologists, forensics scientists, and physicians are all commonly seen as expert witnesses in trials where a combination of extensive education and experience qualifies their testimony. Other expert witnesses may include those in fields such as mechanics, accountants, or other trade specialties where experience alone qualifies them. While the need for experts at a trial can be vital, there have been problems both with what qualifies as “expert” as well as testimony offered by some experts. This paper will look at a few cases to show examples of these problems, what has been done in the past to try and counter these problems, and suggest some more ways to mitigate or eliminate such risks.

Expert Testimony and the Potential for Its Abuse

Lord Mansfield said, “The opinion of scientific men upon proven facts may be given by men of science within their own science,” in reply to an objection during the 1782 Folkes v. Chadd case in the United Kingdom (Rix, 1999). This is traditionally accepted as the first case where expert testimony was offered in a trial when engineer Thomas Smeaton testified regarding harbor decay and the demolition of a sea-bank. For more than two centuries, expert testimony would grow and evolve. Today, the Federal Rules of Evidence Article VII sets the tone for what is acceptable as expert testimony in the United Sates; however, it is a wide set of parameters and there is some room for interpretation (Legal Information Institute, 2014).

Federal Rule 702 states that an expert is anyone with the “knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education” in their field, and they can state their opinion in regards to their field related to the testimony (Legal Information Institute, 2014). It also states that the testimony must meet certain criteria to be considered as expert testimony and should be as follows:

  • the expert’s scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue;
  • the testimony is based on sufficient facts or data;
  • the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods; and
  • the expert has reliably applied the principles and methods of the case.

Further amendments were made in subsequent cases, such as Daubert and Kumho, to charge judges with making sure that all expert testimony, scientific or otherwise, is reliable. The reason for these safeguards was to help lessen the risks of abuse of expert testimony in trials to unfairly sway a jury in favor of one side or another, either prosecution or defense.

However, there are times when bad experts and bad testimony gets into a trial, despite the safeguards put in place. Even in recent times, there have been cases where the dubious qualifications of an expert were called into question, but still the expert was allowed to testify. There have also been experts that are well qualified but the testimony itself had problems. It is vital that such situations be carefully vetted to avoid miscarriages of justice.

An example of problematic expert qualifications can be seen in the 1994 case of teenagers Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin, more famously known as the case of the West Memphis Three (Steel). Other problems with this case aside, the prosecution’s expert testimony on occult crimes was offered by Dale Griffis. During the process of trying to establish his credentials, the defense showed questionable education and a lack of experience in the field for which he was testifying in this case, occult crime (UMKC, 1994). The defense pointed out and got Griffis to admit that while getting his Ph.D. with Columbia Pacific University that he did not follow a prescribed set of courses. In fact he said he took no classes at all to earn his Ph.D., and instead relied on regular correspondence that tailored his educational work solely to his own needs, combining it with life experience as he was a full time working police captain while enrolled. Griffis also said that the university was not accredited, but rather “state certified”. In his dissertation, which was reviewed by a board that included his own mentor, the section on cult crimes was co-authored with a lawyer. He had four books published, some of which he used elements of his own dissertation in. There was no other training or education in the area of occult or cult crimes. Griffis had also only worked sporadically as an “occult expert” in a consultant manner, citing actual trial experience for occult testimony three times, so his experience was limited. Despite the defense showing this severe lack of education, training, and experience, the judge still considered him a qualified expert. It would further be revealed that Griffis had not conducted a thorough investigation of this specific case before testifying. He didn’t even know the names of the defendants and had only corresponded with detectives and prosecutors prior to the trial. The process of vetting this particular witness for expert testimony should have filtered him out, but it did not. The defendants were found guilty, and Jason Baldwin was sentenced to life in prison while Damien Echols was sentenced to death. Eventually, after much controversy, all parties involved would agree to Alford plea deals (Robertson, 2011). This would allow them to proclaim their innocence, but also allow the state of Arkansas to claim there was enough evidence to convict them anyway. After nearly twenty years in prison Jason Baldwin, Jessie Misskelly, Jr., and death row inmate Damien Echols were released.

Another problem that can be seen in regards to expert testimony is when the expert is well qualified, but there are problems with the opinion or facts the expert is presenting. This was evidenced in the 2002 case of Texas mother Andrea Yates when well known expert witness Dr. Park Dietz, a psychiatrist, testified for the prosecution (Colb, 2003). Dr. Dietz was not familiar with post partum mental illnesses, which Yates was said to be suffering before and during the homicides of her children she was on trial for. Yet, he declared that she was sane when she killed her children. The Yates’s defense team did everything they could to challenge the notion that she was sane (Steel). However, in his rebuttal, Dr. Dietz testified that shortly before she killed her children, there was an episode aired of Law & Order in which a character drowned her children and claimed insanity to get away with it (Park, 2008). Yates was convicted in large part due to Dr. Dietz’s testimony. It was later discovered that no such episode had ever been written. There was significant outrage when it was discovered that Dr. Dietz did not remember the information about the television show correctly. However, instead of tossing the conviction, the judge told the jurors that they could consider life in prison instead of the death penalty since they were in the sentencing phase. Eventually, her defense won an appeal and she was re-tried and found not guilty by reason of insanity.

There have to be ways implemented to help mitigate the risks of these unacceptable errors. People’s freedom, and indeed their very lives are at stake. The cause of justice must be thorough, complete, and beyond reproach. Human bias must be blinded and science has offered ways to do so.   Confirmation bias is when someone looks to find evidence or interpret evidence in such a way that it confirms their own personal beliefs and preconceived notions about a given topic, idea, or hypothesis (Nickerson, 1998). In the case of the West Memphis Three, detectives and prosecutors sought out Griffis to confirm their bias of Satanic rituals for murder simply because of the odd appearance and strange behavior of the teenagers suspected (Steel). There were claims that the evidence at the scene matched such rituals; however, much of the facts that Griffis testified to were incorrect and evidence was misrepresented to fit the Satanic narrative as opposed to allowing the evidence to tell its own story. In the Andrea Yates case, Dr. Park Dietz “misremembered” a random idea from a television show and nearly had a woman executed for it. It has even been claimed that he was a “hired gun”, working only to testify to the sanity or insanity of whichever side was paying him to say so (Tolson, 2005). This would lend credence to the bias that he had for the prosecution, offering up whatever it took to give them a winning edge in the case, if it were indeed true.

It has been suggested that there is not enough education in the area of forensic psychology when obtaining various degrees in law and criminal justice, and that may evidenced in the cases mentioned above (Goodman-Delahunty, 1997). Perhaps if there were a better survey of the topics concerning so-called “soft” sciences, such as psychology, as part of the curriculum then there would be a better understanding of what could qualify an expert in a field as obscure as occult crimes. Perhaps if a defense attorney were better trained to know what to look out for when a prosecutor’s star psychiatrist is testifying an opinion that is not based on actual facts, then false convictions could be better avoided. In physical, or “hard”, sciences, it’s a bit easier to qualify the evidence (Faigman, Monahan, & Slobogin, 2014). Is it testable and falsifiable? What are the error rates? Was it accepted and published by a peer reviewed process? All of these factors make it far easier to assist judges in the process of deciding if expert testimony and evidence is admissible during a trial. While it is more difficult to apply these questions to soft science, it is not impossible and should still always be applied.

In the case of the West Memphis Three, had anyone used those standards in qualifying Griffis’s credentials, the noted lack of legitimate education, occult investigation experience, and the lack of peer reviewed publications would have been immediate red flags (UMKC, 1994). In the 1980s and early 1990s there had been multiple occult crime scares fueled in large part due to the media (Victor, 1990). However, there was no shortage of experts working to dispel the myths and quell the fears (McRobbie, 2014). In 1992, even the FBI released a report on the topic of Satanic Ritual Abuse that largely explained reasons behind a lot of why these reports were false, misleading, or misrepresented (Lanning, 1992). There would have been several, more reliable sources available to impeach Dale Griffis as a credible witness. In the Andrea Yates case, if Dr. Dietz had to submit formal evidence of the episode in which he claimed Yates mimicked, such as a transcript of the episode, then it would have been discovered immediately to have never existed (Park, 2008). It was also known that Dr. Dietz was unfamiliar with post partum illnesses and their effects and treatments (Colb, 2003). Any hard evidence produced of his lack of experience in those illnesses would have been important to present during the trial. Combine that information with the knowledge that the show did not exist and they may have been able to successfully impeach him as a credible witness.

It is of the utmost importance to be sure that expert testimony is held to the highest standards possible. Since the jury is composed of lay people, understanding certain elements of evidence are vitally important to the process. If the qualification of witnesses is sloppy, or if the testimony offered by witnesses is careless, then the cause of justice has already been lost. Victims will not have answers or resolution and the accused will not have due process. If problems such as confirmation bias and assumptions are allowed to creep into action, then we will continue to see cases such as those given above. However, if objective and mindful procedures are the forward movements into any case, then it will greatly increase the chances of seeing the truth revealed and justice prevail.


Colb, S. F. (2003, Summer). The Conviction of Andrea Yates: A Narrative of Denial. Duke Journal of Gender Law & Policy, 10(139), 141-148. Retrieved November 2, 2014, from

Faigman, D. L., Monahan, J., & Slobogin, C. (2014, Spring). Grop to Individual (G2i) Inference in Scientific Expert Testimony. The University of Chicago Law Review, 81(2), 417-480. Retrieved November 2, 2014, from

Goodman-Delahunty, J. (1997, Apr.). Psychological Expertise in the Wake of Daubert. Law and Human Behavior, 21(2), 121-140. Retrieved November 4, 2014, from

Lanning, K. V. (1992). Investigator’s Guide to Allegations of “Ritual” Child Abuse. Federal Bureau of Investigation, Behavioral Science Unit. Quantico, Virginia: FBI Academy. Retrieved November 23, 2014

Legal Information Institute. (2014). Federal Rules of Evidence. Retrieved November 2, 2014, from Cornell University Law School:

McRobbie, L. R. (2014, January 7). The Real Victims of Satanic Ritual Abuse. Retrieved November 23, 2014, from Slate:

Nickerson, R. S. (1998, Jun). Confirmation Bias: A ubiquitous phenomenon in many guises. Review of General Psychology, 2(2), 175-220. Retrieved November 2, 2014, from

Park, M. M. (2008, Autumn). The Strange Case of Andrea Yates and Dr Park Dietz. Victorian Bar News, 143, 85. Retrieved November 2, 2014, from

Rix, K. J. (1999). Expert evidence and the courts: 1. The history of expert evidence. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, 5, 71-77. doi:10.1192/apt.5.1.71

Robertson, C. (2011, August 19). Deal Frees ‘West Memphis Three’ in Arkansas. Retrieved November 23, 2014, from New York Times:

Steel, F. (n.d.). The West Memphis Three. Retrieved from Crime Library:

Tolson, M. (2005, January 7). Doctor’s reputation takes a hit in Yate’s testimony. Retrieved Novemeber 23, 2014, from Houston Chronicle:

UMKC. (1994, 3 8). West Memphis Three Trials: Dale Griffis. Retrieved November 2, 2014, from University of Missori-Kansas City School of Law:

Victor, J. (1990, Jan.). Satanic Cult Rumors as Contemporary Legend. Western Folklore, 49(1), 51-81. Retrieved November 2, 2014, from



These College Students Are Making A Nail Polish That Changes Color When Exposed To Date-Rape Drugs

These College Students Are Making A Nail Polish That Changes Color When Exposed To Date-Rape Drugs.

Now this is something I can fully support. I’ll be switching over to their nail polish for sure! Not because I’m worried (I’m a married mother that never goes out), but because I want my dollars going to support this. Well done!

Check out their Facebook Page for more information.

Death Penalty: Might Does Not Make Right

Please remember that this paper is in TurnItIn so do not plagerize. This paper was for my Criminal Law 1 class and I got a 99 on the final paper. I used to be pro-death penalty; however, as I’ve evolved in my philosophy and have come to know morality as being universal, I can no longer support it. Also, I did not include economics in this paper because there are reports that sort of cancel each other out. In other words, people saying the death penalty is less expensive have reports to show that is the case; however, those that claim LWOP (Life WithOut Parole) also have reports that show their stance is the case. I couldn’t find proof enough to satisfy me.

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Death Penalty: Might Does Not Make Right by Reagen Dandridge Desilets is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.


Death Penalty: Might Does Not Make Right

Reagen Dandridge Desilets

Trident Technical College

14SP_F2 CRJ115 Criminal Law I (W04)

April 6, 2014


The death penalty was brought to America by colonial settlers and continues more than 400 years later to this day. There are several studies that claim to justify the continued use of the death penalty; however, there is other research that explains how they do not hold up under scrutiny. In the interests of justice, we must follow through with due diligence to ensure that we are not allowing cruel and unusual punishments to be applied. This paper will explore some of the history and research into this topic and show why it needs careful reconsideration for abolishment.

Death Penalty: Might Does Not Make Right

The death penalty has been a tool used by authorities in an attempt to control the actions of people for centuries; the first codified death penalty laws go back to the Eighteenth Century B.C. in the Code of King Hammaurabi of Babylon (DPIC). In the United States of America, the death penalty was brought by European settlers. The first recorded execution occurred in Jamestown, Virginia in 1608 when Captain George Kendall was executed for being a Spanish spy (Winglfield). The types of crimes punishable by death were vast ranging from theological crimes such as denying the “true God”, to minor crimes like stealing grapes, killing a chicken or trading with natives, to major crimes such as murder (DPIC). Since we can see the absurdity of killing someone over religious beliefs or where the victim had little to no actual harm, it would be wise to continue to question the use of such an absolute form of punishment.

One of the prominent reasons stated for the continued use of the death penalty is that it is a deterrent (Mocan & Gittings, 2003). There have been some studies attempting to support such claims; however, there are others that question the methodologies used in those studies (Donohue & Wolfers, 2006) (Radelet & Lacock, 2009). If a study claims to prove that the death penalty is an effective deterrent, but uses incomplete or questionable methods, then their claims to empirical evidence are not truly empirical. With lives hanging in the balance, this is a vitally important distinction to make. Is their theory falsifiable and if it is, then they failed to prove their theory has any merit whatsoever (Booth, 2004). Donohue and Wolfers (2006) and Radelet and Lacock (2009) have done well to show the errors in several studies, thereby falsifying them. In fact, there are very few academics that support the death penalty as an acceptable form of punishment (Flanders, 2013).

Some claim that morality is upheld with the death penalty in place. Morality is frequently confused with social mores. Mores change from culture to culture and to say that mores are the same as morality denies that there is a universal morality (Gert, 2011). An example of social mores would be the prohibition of vices such as recreational marijuana use. While society frowns upon the recreational use of marijuana and may call those that do use it in such a fashion “immoral”, it is in fact not immoral as it does not cause harm to another person. There are five harms: “death, pain, disability, loss of freedom, and loss of pleasure” (Gert, 2004). So to call the death penalty moral is to say that the person administering it is not causing harm to another person. Compare that to someone smoking marijuana. The person getting high is not causing harm to anyone while the executioner most certainly is. The death penalty, therefore, is a social more, not a moral act. “The death penalty honors human dignity by treating the defendant as a free moral actor able to control his own destiny for good or for ill; it does not treat him as an animal with no moral sense” (Fein, 2001). This attempt to transfer the moral burden of killing a convicted offender to said offender falls short. Yes, there are indeed consequences to one’s actions; however, it does not relieve those initiating, cooperating, and conducting the executions of their responsibility of causing harm to another person.

There are a few people who claim that the death penalty is a form of self-defense. Self-defense, up to and including lethal force, is certainly an acceptable act when needed to protect oneself and other innocents from imminent harm (Gert, 2004). The idea equating the death penalty with self-defense was put forward by Gian Rinaldo Carli as a response to Cesare Beccaria’s 1764 treatise, On Crimes and Punishments (Maestro, 1980). Beccaria proposed a number of changes to the penal legal systems of the time including abolishing the death penalty. Carli rebutted saying that the victim, having been killed by the offender, would have killed the offender in the course of self-defense if they had the means to do so. The death of the offender is planned in advance and executed while the offender is unable to cause harm to anyone else involved, making the act not of self-defense but rather an immoral act of harm more akin to premeditated murder.

Legal definition is the only thing that defines the death penalty as something other than premeditated murder. The legal definition of murder can change from state to state but is usually something along the lines of the unlawful, intentional killing of a person with malice aforethought (Berman). Malice aforethought is the intent to harm or kill without justification, excuse, or mitigating circumstances. The key word we are looking at would be “unlawful”. The law allows for the intentional killing with malice aforethought in the instance of the death penalty. So the acceptance of a legal definition of murder is the only thing that society leans on to excuse the death penalty as an act different than murder. As such, the death penalty has become a social more and never was or could be a moral act. Legislating an immoral act doesn’t suddenly make it moral.

Another reason stated to support the death penalty is for justice. But is that really true? That depends on how someone defines justice. Dr. Budziszewski at the University of Texas at Austin claims, “Society is justly ordered when each person receives what is due to him” (2007). This is the model currently used in the United States of America and it is called the retributive model of justice (Krup, 1981). In retributive justice models, crime is breaking the law and not necessarily something that causes harm; offender accountability is about the offender accepting the infliction of harm and not the offender taking steps to repair the harm they have caused wherever possible; crime affects the government and the focus is taken from the victim and the people most closely affected by the criminal act; public safety is said to be attained by increasing laws and not by building community peace to maintain order (CRYJ). Retribution is based on revenge (The Ideology of the Death Penalty – Retribution and Revenge, 2005). Claims that retribution is a form of restitution, and not revenge, are not true as the state seeking retribution does nothing to help repair the harm to the victim and make them whole again (FindLaw). If efforts are focused on punishment instead of making the victim as whole again as possible and helping the offender to not reoffend, then there is no real justice. There isn’t any justice in revenge and it sets a bad example for citizens. It sends the message that revenge is okay; that revenge is sanctioned by the state and is to be trusted when done by the state. It attempts to cement the idea that the victim is made more whole by the state committing another premeditated murder in the name of the victim. It sends a confused message that justice and revenge are the same when they are not.

Why are revenge and justice not related? Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D. makes some good generalizations about the differences between justice and revenge (2014). The first of those are that revenge is emotional and justice is rational. Justice in its most logical and moral definition is not about “getting even”. It’s about righting a wrong. Second, revenge is personal while justice is impersonal and impartial. Justice is supposed to be blind and that cannot be achieved while someone is feeding a rage to get revenge. Next, revenge is vindictiveness while justice is vindication. Basically, it’s the old adage that two wrongs do not make a right. Revenge is also about cycles whereas justice is about closure. When someone wronged commits an act of revenge, then it’s possible the offender, now a victim, may also seek revenge. It’s a vicious cycle that turns over and over and, before anyone knows it, no one remembers how it all began. However, justice aims to get restitution, rehabilitation, resolution, and closure. This will end the cycle of violence that revenge would only perpetrate. Finally, revenge concerns retaliation and justice concerns restoring balance. Revenge tends to be disproportionate because of the emotion involved in such acts. Vigilantism is frequently fed by personal senses of what is right and wrong and can be fueled when multiplied by crowds of people, such as seen in riots and lynch mobs. However, such extremism on the part of revenge isn’t going to help and justice aims to “dispassionately” restore balance through equity. Restoration is about repairing harm with equal restitution, not restitution and then some. So the goal of the death penalty, revenge, is a dangerous path to tread that does not seek justice in the end, only more harm.

All of the above discussions do not even consider when an innocent person is executed by the state. It is hard to know how many innocent people have been executed as there usually isn’t a chance for exoneration after execution (DPIC, 2014). There have been, however, a total of 116 death row inmates exonerated from 1973 to 2004 (Dieter, 2004). This may point to the very likelihood of innocent people having been executed in the past, which is far from being just or moral. Even though there have been some exonerations now does not mean that there are no longer innocent people currently facing the death penalty. Nevertheless, death penalty proponents seem to accept this grave injustice as a part of the system. Judge Mark L. Wolf of the Federal District Court in Boston admitted to the fact that innocent people are executed but still refused to declare the death penalty unconstitutional (Liptak, 2003). Judge Michael Ponsor of the Federal District Court in Springfield once wrote, “(T)hat a legal regime relying on the death penalty will inevitably execute innocent people – not too often, one hopes, but undoubtedly sometimes. Mistakes will be made because it is simply not possible to do something this difficult perfectly, all the time. Any honest proponent of capital punishment must face this fact.” (2002) And yet, even when this frightening truth is acknowledged, people refuse to take a stance against it. Instead, the responsibility of killing innocent people is thrust into the hands of the system, which is fallible precisely because it is in the hands of human beings. The system cannot exist outside of human action as it is human action. Once this blame-shifting behavior is stopped, then people would have to be held accountable for the detention and death of innocent people. Support for the death penalty would have to stop so as to not continue to kill innocent people by mistake. This issue is something those that hold to the death penalty being moral and just cannot continue to hide behind.

After centuries of excusing the use of the death penalty through codified laws and social mores it is becoming less able to withstand the tests of effectiveness, justness, and morality. Other means need to be sought to find better ends, ends that will give everyone a real sense of achieving justice. The death penalty is not an effective deterrent; therefore, it serves the purpose of revenge instead of justice. The death penalty offers no restitution for the harms caused by the offender. The death penalty is an immoral act as it is the killing of someone that is not an imminent danger. The death penalty is also the ending of the life of some people that were truly innocent. It is time to evolve beyond the death penalty and adopt better ways of dealing with offenders and getting justice for victims and their families. Only then will people begin to heal and feel at peace.


Berman, S. J. (n.d.). Homicide: Murder and Manslaughter. Retrieved April 12, 2014, from Nolo: Law for All:

Booth, J. (2004, Summer). Scientific Knowledge: Truth, Induction, and Falsification. Richmond Journal of Philosophy(7), 44-49.

Budziszewski, J. (2007, January 6). Captial Punishment: The Case for Justice. Retrieved April 8, 2014, from First Things:

CRYJ. (n.d.). What is Restorative Justice. Retrieved April 8, 2014, from Center for Youth Justice:

Dieter, R. C. (2004, September). A Death Penalty Information Center Report. Retrieved April 12, 2014, from DPIC:

Donohue, J. J., & Wolfers, J. (2006, January). Uses and Abuses of Empirical Evidence in the Death Penalty Debate. Stanford Law Review, 58, 791-846.

DPIC. (2014, March 12). Innocence and the Death Peanlty. Retrieved April 12, 2014, from Death Penalty Information Center:

DPIC. (n.d.). Part I: History of the Death Penalty. Retrieved April 7, 2014, from Death Penalty Information Center:

Fein, B. (2001, Summer). The Death Penalty, but Sparingly. Human Rights, 28(3), p. 18.

Flanders, C. (2013, Fall). The Case Against the Case Against the Death Penalty. New Criminal Law Revew: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal, 16(4), 595-620.

Gert, B. (2004). Common Morality : Deciding What to Do. New York: Oxford University Press.

Gert, B. (2011). The Definition of Morality. Retrieved April 8, 2014, from Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy:

Innocence Project. (n.d.). The Innocent and the Death Penalty. Retrieved April 12, 2014, from Innocence Project:

Krup, S. D. (1981, December). A Retributive-Justice Model of Sentencing. Federal Probation, 45(4), 24-29.

Letsas, G. (2009). Rights and Duties on Pitcairn Island. In D. Oliver, Justice, Legality and the Rule of Law: Lessons from the Pitcairn Prosecutions. New York: Oxford University Press.

Liptak, A. (2003, August 12). Signs Grow of Innocent People Being Executed, Judge Says. Retrieved April 12, 2014, from New York Times:

Maestro, M. (1980, Feb. 29). The Death Penalty Viewed as an Act of Self-Defense by Two Italian Jurists in the Eighteenth Century. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 124(1), 52-54.

Martinson. (1996). What Works? Questions and Answers about Prison Reform. In G. S. Bridges, J. G. Weis, & R. D. Crutchfield, Criminal Justice: Readings (pp. 113-123). Thousand Oaks, California: Pine Forge Press.

Mocan, H. N., & Gittings, R. K. (2003, October). Getting off Death Row: Commuted Sentences and the Deterrent Effect of Capital Punishment. Journal of Law and Economics, 46(2), 453-478.

Ponsor, M. (2002, August 22). Measuring price of death penalty. Retrieved April 12, 2014, from UMass Amherst:

Radelet, M. L., & Lacock, T. L. (2009, Spring). Recent Developments: Do Executions Lower Homicide Rates?: The Views of Leading Criminologists. The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 99(2), 489-508.

Rothbard, M. N. (1963). War, Peace, and the State. Retrieved April 12, 2014, from Ludwig von Mises Institute:

Seltzer, L. F. (2014, February 6). Don’t Confuse Revenge with Justice: 5 Key Differences. Retrieved April 12, 2014, from Psychology Today:

Winglfield, E. M. (n.d.). First Hand Accounts of Virginia, 1575-1705: A Discourse of Virginia. Retrieved April 7, 2014, from University of Virginia Library:

* Feature image in header from

Carl Sagan’s “Pale Blue Dot”

I know that this may not seem like something that affects thoughts and ideas in criminal justice but I see how it does.  We hope to do something good and this helps put an amazing perspective on our lives. Regardless of your faith or creed, this speech is relevant. Please take a moment to hear what may be some of the most amazing three and half minutes ever spoken by a human being. (transcript below video)

From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known, so far, to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand. It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

Carl SaganPale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, 1997 reprint, pp. xv–xvi

*featured image from
This rare image taken on July 19, 2013, by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has shows Saturn’s rings and our planet Earth and its moon in the same frame. At the time, Cassini was 2013 from a distance of about 898.414 million miles (1.445858 billion kilometers) from Earth. It is only one footprint in a mosaic of 33 footprints covering the entire Saturn ring system (including Saturn itself) taken by Cassini’s wide-angle camera.

Man charged for speaking Irish to police – UTV Live News

Yeah. I got nothing. You?

Man charged for speaking Irish to police

Published Monday, 07 April 2014

A man has appeared in court on anti-terrorism charges after he gave his name and address to police in Irish.

Man charged for speaking Irish to police
The case was adjourned until May. (© UTV)

Dermot Douglas of Mellows Park in Dublin appeared in Londonderry Magistrates’ Court last week charged with not giving his details to the best of his ability under the Justice and Security Act on 6 March.

Defence solicitor Brian Stelfox told the court his client had come out of a house in the Creggan area of the city and had been stopped by police and gave his details in Irish.

District Judge Barney McElholm asked: “Is the sum total of this case that he gave his name in Irish?”

Mr Stelfox said the 49-year-old had “quite happily” allowed the police to search him and then had given his name and address in Irish before he was arrested.

He said while in the Strand Road police station he was offered a caution but refused to accept it “on principle” as he felt he had complied with the law.

A prosecution lawyer asked for the case to be adjourned for four weeks for further investigation, however, Mr Stelfox said he was “at a loss to see how there could be any further investigation”.

Judge McElholm said: “One wonders what would have happened if Mr Douglas had been Romanian or Chinese.”

The defence solicitor said his client felt he was entitled to have the case heard in Irish.

The judge confirmed that it could be heard in Irish as long as there was “due consideration for the public purse”.

The case was adjourned and Douglas will appear again on 1 May in order to see, as Judge McElholm put it, “if we can get this resolved”.

via Man charged for speaking Irish to police – UTV Live News.


Effects of CompStat and Zero-Tolerance Policies in Communities

 As usual when I share one of my research papers, please know that it is now in TurnItIn; so if you try to use it as your own paper, you’ll get caught. Please do not plagiarize. Thanks.

Effects of CompStat and Zero-Tolerance Policies in Communities

Reagen Dandridge Desilets

Trident Technical College

14SP_F1 CRJ130 Police Administration (W04)

February 1, 2014





Since the New York Police Department launched CompStat, short for Computer Statistics, and changed to a zero tolerance model of policing using the “broken window” theory of crime control, they claim great success in lowering crime rates.  However, there are questions as to the true measure of these programs’ success on affecting crime rates.  From accusations of not giving officers discretion on minor issues to CompStat’s possible problematic implementation and use, there seems to be serious questions arising as to the true implications of these programs.  This paper will explore if they are successful in helping crime rates drop, or if there some other trend on a macro level in the country that can account for these reductions.  Problems and possible solutions will also be explored in regards to CompStat and zero tolerance policies.


Effects of CompStat and Zero-Tolerance Policies in Communities

In 1994, Rudy Guiliani took over the office of Mayor of New York City, and appointed William Bratton as New York City Police Department Commissioner (Levitt, 2004).  CompStat, short for Computer Statistics, was introduced by Bratton to help identify crime “hot spots” and to try to apply accountability within the police department.  This was done alongside the implementation of order maintenance policies, in line with the “broken window” theory of crime, and zero-tolerance policing  (Eterno & Silverman, 2012) (Howell, 2009).  In social psychology there is the theory that if there is an unrepaired broken window, then eventually all the other windows will be broken (Kelling & Wilson, 1982).  Other people will come in and take out whatever windows they can that are not protected.  This is done just because it can be done, for fun or malice, since it’s a sign that no one cares anymore.  While the broken windows theory focused on physical appearances and things that are typically offenses not arrested for such as code enforcement and pan-handling, zero-tolerance policing brought in a very different approach (Howell, 2009).  Zero-tolerance policing is the idea that even the most minor of offenses can result in an arrest (Thacher, 2004).  For police, it was thought that cracking down on quality of life issues, such as vandalism, prostitution, loitering and more, would help drive more serious crime rates down. Before long, some researchers began to credit these new methods with the reduction in crime in New York City (Greenberg, 2014).

However, there is no empirical evidence showing that New York City’s methods actually work to reduce crime (Harcourt & Ludwig, 2006).  There are other things that likely contributed to the decline in their crime rates.  One of the possible contributing factors that critics point out  is that crime was already in a downward trend nationwide, as well as in New York City, when Giliani and Bratton took their offices (Bowling, 1999).  In the past, homicides in New York City had risen from 1985 to 1990 by 63%, alongside the introduction of cocaine freebase, more commonly known as crack or crack-cocaine.  Studies have shown that the rise in homicides was more as a result of systematic drug crimes rather than economic drug crimes (Goldstein, Brownstein, Ryan, & Bellucci, 1989).  That is to say that the homicides were more related to violent turf wars between rival dealers and gangs than to users committing violent crimes to fund their addictions.  However, the market for crack-cocaine reached its peak in the early 1990s (Bowling, 1999).  Once the dangers of being a “crack-head” became known, it began to lose its appeal. It’s relatively short high compared to other drugs as well as the severe damage of long term use contributed to it falling out of favor.

At the same time as the beginning of crack-cocaine’s fall, there was increase in the number of police officers being hired (Levitt, 2004).  According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, the number of police officers being hired increased nationally by about 14 percent in the 1990s.  Levitt also showed from other studies that a rise in the number of police officers can be associated with a drop in crime in the near future.  However, he specifically shows that Bratton’s policies on policing did not start the decline in crime in New York City. Crime in New York City began to fall in 1990, years before Bratton was appointed as commissioner.  The rise in the number of police officers in New York City grew 45 percent from 1991 to 2001, three times greater than the national average.  The result is a drop by 18 percent in the city’s homicides, bringing the homicide rate down to the average for other large cities.  Crime rates had also declined in cities that had not implemented Bratton’s methods, so the correlation between his methods of policing and a drop in crime rates in New York City is likely to be a minor, if any, factor.

Levitt included two other factors that may have contributed to the drop in crime rates (Levitt, 2004).  Those were legalized abortion, where unwanted children were not having to be subjected to abusive and neglectful households resulting in their later activities in crime, and increased incarceration rates.  While increased incarceration rates, particularly for minor offenses targeted by zero tolerance policing, may have an immediate effect on crime rates, the tradeoff down the road may have far reaching negative effects.  Without rehabilitation and reentry programs, recidivism rates remained high (Balko, Beyond Bars, 2010).  Crime rates may also raise when the needs of people in poorer communities cannot be met and social order is disrupted due to the imprisonment of nonviolent people for minor violations of the law (Clear, 2008).  When someone is imprisoned for minor offenses, which were previously not resulting in arrests, it produced a hidden cost that can generate many more problems, from families and communities, to the criminal justice system itself (Howell, 2009).  Heavier burdens, such as now single parent homes and the now perceived loss of legitimacy in criminal justice, created a sense of unfair treatment.  Those people suffering may lash out and reject laws since they no longer view the law and law enforcers as having legitimate authority.  Arrests and convictions created a loss of home, employment, and education which contributed to part of the collateral damage when someone is imprisoned, particularly for nonviolent crimes.  This may create a cycle that is hard to break for future generations that witness this breakdown as children.

CompStat is not without its critics as well.  There was a survey of NYPD retirees done by Long Island’s Molloy College and they revealed that there was a lot of push from higher ranks and those in charge to change the crime stats, such as reducing felonies to misdemeanors to make the numbers look better (Balko, The Other Broken Windows Fallacy, 2010).  One even went so far as to report that victims were talked out of filing reports and some officers refused to take any reports at all. Meant to be a failsafe for tracking and targeting high crime, CompStat is still dependent on humans to run and maintain.  With politically motivated people, there can be a manipulation of data to make things look good in their favor. Concerns for civil liability may arise since the crimes were being treated differently; either a crime was treated too harshly resulting in wrongful prosecution and/or cruel and unusual punishment or a crime was not treated with the right amount of attention it truly required. Such events can happen when misdemeanors are treated as felonies and vice versa. Victims have been made to feel as if they somehow participated in the crime against them (Citizens Against Recidivism, Inc., 2010). The failure to act on the part of the criminal justice system can leave the victim open to more targeting by criminals as they are unlikely to report anymore crimes.

The same month of that study, Bronx police officer Adhyl Polanco blew the whistle on policies of requiring a certain number of citations and arrests each month (Balko, The Other Broken Windows Fallacy, 2010) (Carver, 2013).  He claimed that he could no longer continue “arresting innocent people” and other activities that he felt compromised his goals of helping and assisting people.  He claimed that these quotas motivated officers to arrest people that haven’t committed a crime and that most were released the following day with no charges having ever been filed.  Another Bronx officer, Pedro Serrano, also came forward about the quotas (Carver, 2013).  He added that, as a Hispanic male, he had been targeted for stop and frisks while off duty and that he could relate to how it made targeted people feel.  He said he was told by his superiors to specifically target one age group of black males in a high crime area.  He began to refuse to meet quotas and, in turn, faced retaliation from his commanding officers and other higher-ups.  Once he reported everything to Internal Affairs, he became a target while on duty for harassment from other officers.

There was also manipulation through loopholes in the law to help create an offense that can result in an arrest with a legal charge (Balko, The Other Broken Windows Fallacy, 2010).  For example, a small amount of marijuana in one’s personal possession was an offense that might generate a fine; however, public display of marijuana was an arrest offense.  So doing stop and frisks, asking people to empty their pockets would create that public display, instigating an arrest that would have otherwise never happened if rampant stop and frisks were not being pushed.  There clearly needs to be a reassessment of how to report crimes to ensure that serious crimes are not being underreported and that minor offenses aren’t being heavily targeted.

Questions remain as to the trustworthiness of data from CompStat statistics (Chen, 2010).  The issues surrounding CompStat data may have more and more people second guessing the police and not being able to trust their methods.  Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the Mayor of New York City after Giliani, even admitted to the inevitability of “fudging” small amounts, but is it really so small (Huspeni, 2013) (Chen, 2010)?  There is data to show that an astonishing rise in the number of stop and frisks have not reduced the number of people shot (Weiss, 2012).  Mayor Bloomberg tried to justify the vast increase in stop and frisk policing by comparing it to the number of people murdered; however, a more accurate comparison is drawn by looking at the number of people shot.  Advancements in emergency medicine, “a good EMT or doctor in the E.R.”, as well as near misses to vital organs all play a role in keeping those assaults from becoming homicides.  In the period when Mayor Bloomberg was bragging about reducing crime, the hospitals had sharp increases of patients due to assault (Moses, 2005).  This difference in numbers may have been driven as a political move by the mayor for his bid for reelection, hoping that the reduced number of murders would be the more likeable statistic versus an increase in gunshot victims.  Either way, this one set of statistics alone is enough to draw the entire process in question.

There are a number of ways to help tackle the issues surrounding CompStat and zero-tolerance policing.  One is to undertake non-arrest order maintenance (Howell, 2009).  Decriminalizing minor offenses would go a very long way to curb high numbers of arrests and would allow for the community to continue their lives.  People would not lose jobs because of an arrest, parents would not be put in jail, and the community could stay as a cohesive unit.  Arrest procedures could also be altered so that when an arrest is made for a misdemeanor they are booked but released if there are no other warrants.  They would still be required to be at arraignment, but they would not miss any work days.  This would also likely shorten the booking process and help officers get back on the streets quicker.  Less overtime would be required of the officers having to book people after their shifts end and the costs of putting people in jail would be greatly reduced.

Changes in policing models would also go a long way to help reduce the rift in police-community relations.  For example, San Diego did not take on a zero-tolerance model but rather problem-oriented community policing (Howell, 2009).  They were able to reduce crime by getting the community involved and striking at the roots of the problems instead of targeting citizens with minor offenses.  Boston focused on the more serious criminals instead of the low level offenders.  Both models helped to reduce crime but, at the same time, allowed the community to feel satisfied with the police departments.  These types of policing models work to also reduce, or even eliminate, the sense of unfair treatment by young men of color.  Since the NYPD stop and frisks targeted mostly Latino and black communities, it is something that should be taken into consideration regarding what model of policing helps more than hurts the communities.  The evidence exists to show that aggressive policing for minor offenses is not necessary to reduce overall crime rates, so perhaps it is time to try something different and help bridge the gap that has continued to grow between the criminal justice system and communities.

Furthermore, it may help to implement CompStat in such a way that it is monitored by an outside, independent entity (Eterno & Silverman, 2012).  An unbiased scientific assessment of CompStat data may help in reducing the chances of misuse, under or over reporting, and misrepresentation of statistics and crime rates.  If quotas and certain requirements of numbers of citations, tickets, and arrests are dropped, then the data provided to CompStat would become a more reliable telling of the story of crime prevention, law enforcement, and crime trends.

It is imperative that crime rate trends be separated wholly and completely from politics.  Politicians take credit for things such as the hard work of those under them or for trends that are caused by something other than that politician’s election to office.  That needs to stop.  With the political motivation removed, then the truly scientific application that CompStat should provide will become clear and that data will be far more trustworthy.  Crime and policing isn’t about numbers; it’s about lives.  Each individual’s worth, no matter their history, is far more important than any politician’s political campaign.  Focusing back on the people, and not the politicians, will provide a better end result with fewer chances for corruption and manipulation to occur.

In conclusion, it is obvious that there are problems surrounding the implementation of policies such as broken windows and zero-tolerance policing as well as CompStat data manipulation.  However, there are several factors that could help to clean up crime data, keep communities together while still addressing crime, and bridge the gap that remains between those communities and the criminal justice system.  Decriminalizing order maintenance violations, aiming to take down the bigger criminals instead of focusing primarily on minor crimes, externalizing the collection and analysis of data, and depoliticizing police management and crime statistics all can help to improve the problems seen so far in areas with these types of policies and police management.


Balko, R. (2010, December 20). Beyond Bars. Retrieved February 1, 2014, from Reason:

Balko, R. (2010, March 8). The Other Broken Windows Fallacy. Retrieved Febrauary 1, 2014, from Reason:

Bowling, B. (1999, Autumn). The Rise and Fall of New York Murder. British Jornal of Criminology, 39(4), 531-554.

Carver, M. (2013, March 26). NYPD officers say they had stop-and-frisk quotas. Retrieved January 24, 2014, from CNN:

Chen, D. W. (2010, February 8). Survey Raises Questions on Data-Driven Policy. Retrieved February 1, 2014, from The New York Times:

Clear, T. R. (2008). The Effects of High Imprisonment Rates on Communities. Crime and Justice, 37(1), 97-132.

Eterno, J. A., & Silverman, E. B. (2012). The Crime Numbers Game: Management by Manipulation. CRC Press.

Goldstein, P. J., Brownstein, H. H., Ryan, P. J., & Bellucci, P. A. (1989). Crack and Homicide in New York City: A Conceptually Based Event Analysis. Contemporary Drug Problems, 16(4), 651-687.

Greenberg, D. F. (2014). Studying New York City’s Crime Decline: Methodological Issues. Justice Quarterly, 31(1), 154-188.

Harcourt, B. E., & Ludwig, J. (2006, Winter). Broken Windows: New Evidence from New York City and a Five-City Social Experiment. The University of Chicago Law Review, 73(1), 271-320.

Howell, K. B. (2009). Broken Lives From Broken Windows: The Hidden Costs of Aggressive Order-Maintenance Policing. New York University Review of Law & Social Change, 33, 271-329.

Huspeni, A. (2013, September 10). A Look at NYC Mayor Bloomberg’s Legacy (Interactive Timeline). Retrieved February 14, 2014, from Entrepreneur:

Kelling, G. L., & Wilson, J. Q. (1982, March). Broken Windows: The Police and Neighborhood Safety. Retrieved February 1, 2014, from The Atlantic:

Levitt, S. D. (2004, Winter). Understanding Why Crime Fell in the 1990s: Four Factors that Explain the Decline and Six that Do Not. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 18(1), 163-190.

Moses, P. (2005, October 25). These Stats Are A Crime. Retrieved February 1, 2014, from The Villiage Voice:

Thacher, D. (2004, Winter). Order Maintence Reconsidered: Moving Beyond Strong Causal Reasoning. The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 94(2), 381-414.

Weiss, M. (2012, June 5). Stop-and-Frisks Have Done Little to Reduce Shootings, NYPD Data Shows. Retrieved January 25, 2014, from DNAinfo New York:


Family of Executed Man Plans to Sue State – ABC News

I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on the attached article. I am against the death penalty for many reasons and this is one of them – there is no humane way to kill someone.

I’m not sure why it is okay for the government to do things that you and I would be imprisoned (or even executed) for doing. Revenge is not justice, so why are people condoning state-sponsored revenge?

What are your thoughts?

via Family of Executed Man Plans to Sue State – ABC News.

Discovering P.O.V.s in Criminal Justice