Tag Archives: criminal justice

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 http://ssrn.com/abstract=2271277

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 http://www.jstor.org/stable/23762370

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 http://www.jstor.org/stable/1394168

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: http://www.law.cornell.edu/rules/fre

McRobbie, L. R. (2014, January 7). The Real Victims of Satanic Ritual Abuse. Retrieved November 23, 2014, from Slate: http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/medical_examiner/2014/01/fran_and_dan_keller_freed_two_of_the_last_victims_of_satanic_ritual_abuse.html

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 http://psy2.ucsd.edu/~mckenzie/nickersonConfirmationBias.pdf

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 http://ssrn.com/abstract=1537711

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: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/20/us/20arkansas.html?_r=0

Steel, F. (n.d.). The West Memphis Three. Retrieved from Crime Library: http://www.crimelibrary.com/notorious_murders/famous/memphis/index_1.html

Tolson, M. (2005, January 7). Doctor’s reputation takes a hit in Yate’s testimony. Retrieved Novemeber 23, 2014, from Houston Chronicle: http://www.chron.com/news/article/Doctor-s-reputation-takes-a-hit-in-Yate-s-1948489.php

UMKC. (1994, 3 8). West Memphis Three Trials: Dale Griffis. Retrieved November 2, 2014, from University of Missori-Kansas City School of Law: http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/memphis3/WestMemphis3EBGriffis.html

Victor, J. (1990, Jan.). Satanic Cult Rumors as Contemporary Legend. Western Folklore, 49(1), 51-81. Retrieved November 2, 2014, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/1499482


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: http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/homicide-murder-manslaughter-32637.html

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: http://www.firstthings.com/article/2007/01/capital-punishment-the-case-for-justice

CRYJ. (n.d.). What is Restorative Justice. Retrieved April 8, 2014, from Center for Youth Justice: http://www.restorativeyouthjustice.org/restorativejustice

Dieter, R. C. (2004, September). A Death Penalty Information Center Report. Retrieved April 12, 2014, from DPIC: http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/innocence-and-crisis-american-death-penalty

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

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DPIC. (n.d.). Part I: History of the Death Penalty. Retrieved April 7, 2014, from Death Penalty Information Center: http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/part-i-history-death-penalty#early

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: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/morality-definition/

Innocence Project. (n.d.). The Innocent and the Death Penalty. Retrieved April 12, 2014, from Innocence Project: http://www.innocenceproject.org/Content/The_Innocent_and_the_Death_Penalty.php

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: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/08/12/national/12DEAT.html

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: http://people.umass.edu/leg485/ponsor.htm

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: http://mises.org/rothbard/warpeace.asp

Seltzer, L. F. (2014, February 6). Don’t Confuse Revenge with Justice: 5 Key Differences. Retrieved April 12, 2014, from Psychology Today: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evolution-the-self/201402/don-t-confuse-revenge-justice-5-key-differences

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: http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/etcbin/jamestown-browse?id=J1023

* Feature image in header from http://rt.com/files/news/20/b8/10/00/death-row-inmates-drug-cocktail.jpg

Regeneration from 2013 to 2014

Good afternoon to you all! I wanted to take a moment to reflect and consider who I am and what I want to do in this lifetime. Anyone that knows me in person knows I’m a Whovian (Dr. Who fan) and I often find myself cheering his philosophies of peace and nonviolence. I’m no pacifist; however, peace is the only way we can achieve the greatness that humans can potentially be. And peace does NOT come by force. In the episode “The Rings of Akhaten”, there comes a moment where a little girl believes she has to sacrifice herself to save her people and her entire solar system, as it turns out their “god” is actually their sun, a creature that feeds on souls – which are described as memories and stories. The Doctor then relays something very important to the girl, Merry, and it struck a cord with me:

Doctor Who, Rings of Akhaten, quote, speech, monologue
Doctor Who: Rings of Akhaten

He then looks at the creature wanting the sacrifice and says, “Getting rid of that existence isn’t a sacrifice, it is a waste!” Waste indeed. I have been trying to forge my own philosophy, my own tagline if you will. The  more I learn in life as well as in my studies in criminal justice and social sciences the more I know how precious life is. Once it is gone, that is it. This isn’t a statement about whether or not there is a Heaven or Hell or purgatory. This isn’t about that life or if that life exists. This is about THIS life. Irregardless of your beliefs the truth is that while we are here in this form on this earth, we have great potential. Every person has the potential for greatness, but that greatness can so easily slip away.

It has been heartbreaking to learn the truths that I have learned, particularly in regards to the current criminal justice system. The supposed “Land of the Free” has the highest incarceration rate of any other country on this planet and has a sickeningly high recidivism rate. These people have been locked away, a lot of them for nothing truly criminal, nothing Malum in se. It’s about criminalizing personal behaviors, personal choices. So what happens to those that are not violent but are then thrown into an environment where violence may be a valuable survival trait? What happens after they are released? Jail is not a deterrent for prohibited actions. So what are we loosing, not just as a country, but as human beings, when we lock up people that are not violent? We create waste in ourselves when we do this.

From National Geographic's "Lockdown"
From National Geographic’s “Lockdown”

We must reconsider everything. We must try again. We cannot give up. That is why I started this journey into criminal justice. It is a sad waste how things are dealt with right now. But we can change that.

I hope to see 2014 become a time marked with change and with people working towards real peace and real freedom. A time where people can understand that each and every person on this planet has something amazing to contribute to this existence. We must aim to be the peacemakers while we are here and we must put much thought, consideration, and introspection into how to achieve greatness and how to achieve peace. There is hope and it is in within us to gain true enlightenment and move forward in our journeys on this planet and in this time. Imagine what we can do together when we set aside our preconceptions and prejudices!

I see a great and wonderful future. I hope you do as well. Have a wonderful New Year and make it great!

Zimbardo, Milgram, and Asch: What they mean to Criminal Justice

First, I want to touch on the Asch conformity study and what it means to criminal justice. Asch conducted a study with six people at a table. Only one of them was a true test subject and the other five were actors taking part in the study. They were shown a series of posters with a line on the left and three numbered lines on the right. The goal was to say the number  of the line that matched the length of the line on the left. For the first two, everyone said the right answer. However, after that, the actors would say the wrong answer. The test subject, even though knowing what the right answer was, would also say the wrong answer so to not “make waves”. This can show why it is important to separate people when responding to a scene. It is easy to get tainted eye witness testimonies and that is one of the leading causes of innocent people being found guilty and going to prison (The Innocence Project). Here is a video on the Asch conformity study:

Next is Milgram. He conducted a study in which there was truly only one test subject and the other two people were actors, unknown to the test subject. One actor would act as a student, the test subject would act as a teacher, and the other actor would act as a professor conducting the experiment. The student would be strapped into a chair hooked to a system that delivers electric shocks in increasing increments. The teacher (the test subject) would ask question and everytime the student got a wrong answer, an electric shock would be administered, going from lightest shock to a fatal amount of 450 volts. Milgram found that 65% would continue the experiment, even though they knew they were possibly going to kill the student. The reason was because the professor was urging them on. The experiment shows that when instructions come from an authority figure, people may be more willing to commit acts of violence that they wouldn’t normally do on their own. Parallels have been drawn to the Nazis on trial saying that they were just doing what they were told and Nuremberg telling them that wasn’t good enough, that they should have known to stop. This is extremely important in today’s world. It is important to understand this dynamic in law enforcement and in the prison environment and people must anticipate it and make measures to constantly battle this tendency. Here is a video on an updated version of Milgram’s experiment:

This video is in three parts:

Finally, we come to perhaps the most controversial experiment to date: The Stanford Prison Experiment by Philip G. Zimbardo. In this experiment he created a prison setting in the basement at Stanford University. He had a number of volunteers, some acting as prisoners, and the rest as prison guards with himself like a warden. He would uncover some disturbing behavior out of normal people when placed in such a setting. Guard abuse became apparent in a short amount of time. Zimbardo was excitedly telling another professor about the experiment when she called out the ethics violations in letting the experiment continue and Zimbardo pulled the plug, ending it early. In today’s world, this treatment has been linked to places such as Abu Ghraib where authority and abuse can become infectious and those in charge do nothing to stop it. Below is a video about the experiment:

All of these experiments and studies are very important in the criminal justice field. There needs to be checks and balances to stop things such as wrong eye witness identification, abuse and torture, as well as authorities getting a bloated sense of the situation and acting in ways they normally would not when outside the situation. People place a lot of trust in the criminal justice field and when it fails, that trust is lost and likely isn’t gained back by those that were wronged. There is not much in the way of accountability as when there is abuse, the chances are paid desk duty during investigation by an inside department and a very light discipline, if any at all. This stops the justice process and undermines what the field is supposed to be doing – seeking justice.

Have you found yourself in similar situations? Have you conformed when you knew it was wrong? I’m sure the vast majority of people have, especially if coming up in public schools where conformity is preferred to individuality. How about the issues of abuse? Ever pick on someone in school because everyone else was? It’s likely a lot of people have, even if they don’t realize it. What have you learned from these experiences so that you can avoid repeating those actions again? Take some time and think about it…

* Cover photo from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bob-cesca/waterboarding-vs-hammers-_b_76419.html

Three Hundred Inmates Released Thanks to Chemist Who Faked Evidence

Three Hundred Inmates Released Thanks to Chemist Who Faked Evidence.

I included this case in my research paper on forensics fraud (which will be published here in December after this semester ends). It’s an aberration that she faked evidence to “seem like a good worker”.

Just because science and technology has advanced the potential to prove or disprove someone’s involvement in a crime doesn’t mean it is fraud-proof. It is so very important that we stick to the scientific method when processing evidence. In my forthcoming research paper, I discuss methods that other professionals in the field recommend to make it further fraud resistant such as double blind tests and even an “evidence line up” where the forensic examiner is presented with several items, only one of which is truly evidence from a crime scene. The examiner would then have to test all objects, not knowing which is real evidence, and falsify each item to reveal the evidence.

Brent Turvey has a textbook on forensics fraud and I’m tempted to add it to my library even though it isn’t for any of my classes. He authored my criminal profiling class textbook and I loved it. It’s very different and applies a scientific method, denouncing the organized/disorganized dichotomy that is currently employed in that field.

Attorney: Glen Burnie shooting was self-defense – CapitalGazette.com: For The Record

Attorney: Glen Burnie shooting was self-defense – CapitalGazette.com: For The Record.

Self defense… clearly… Looks like he was dealing with a stalker that was escalating and resorted to violence. If \”Call 911\” is your only lame excuse for charging this man with murder then you will loose this case. Even if he did call 911 right away the stalker broke into the house shortly after the confrontation started which means police would not have been able to get there prior to the man shooting the stalker in self defense and defense of his home and everyone in it.

via Attorney: Glen Burnie shooting was self-defense – CapitalGazette.com: For The Record.

Why is this okay?

Son Sees The Man Who Killed His Mother

Why are people saying the victim’s son is right in doing what he has done and that it would be worth the jail time? Is it truly?

This is an example of retribution, which is the current model of the American criminal justice system. The system deems this is in fact, NOT okay. We do not support vengeance, lynching, etc… Others call it “taking the law into their own hands”. But what has this act of vengeance done? It put a mourning son in jail is what it did. I cannot speak for this boy’s mother but I’m sure she doesn’t want her son in jail. I’m sure she would rather see justice as best as possible in her absence – meaning this offender is in jail and prison, not her son.

Also, consider the possibility that the man accused is innocent? What then?

If the system itself deems what this boy did in retribution wrong, why doesn’t it also see it’s own methods as wrong since it seeks revenge?

What are some ways that restorative and transformative justice could have helped this son be able to cope?