Jan 21, 2016

On Wrongful Convictions and Tunnel Vision

"Only a fraction of criminal cases involve biological evidence that can be subjected to DNA testing, and even when such evidence exists, it is often lost or destroyed after a conviction. Since they don’t have access to a definitive test like DNA, many wrongfully convicted people have a slim chance of ever proving their innocence," notes the Innocence Project.

The criminal justice is a system of men and women, and not law; don't kid yourself. High-minded rhetoric from prosecutors is so much twaddle.

For justice to prevail, commitment to truth and moral courage must trump careerism, institutional inertia of the drive to amass convictions, and passive compliance.

So, I pose here again an appeal to sign and distribute this Petition to demand a new trial for the wrongfully convicted Penny Brummer, convicted out of 1990s animus against lesbians by Dane County law enforcement, tunnel vision, and a frighteningly hostile stance of district attorneys toward claims of injustice and "blind obedience to finality," (Findley, Innocence Project, Washington Post).

Following is an eloquent description of Tunnel Vision from the Huffington Post, (Ferner):

Tunnel Vision: 'A Recipe For Disaster'

During the course of 'Making a Murderer,' it’s revealed that Manitowoc authorities had evidence that there may have been another suspect in Avery’s sexual assault case. For years, though, no report was filed about that evidence. Avery’s defense argues that law enforcement, in both Avery’s sexual assault case and his murder case, simply decided he was guilty before they had the evidence to prove it. The cops and prosecutors deny they had anything against Avery, maintaining that the evidence led them to him.

Daniel Medwed, a law professor at Northeastern University who has studied this phenomenon in depth, told HuffPost that police and prosecutors have been known to lock on to a theory and 'neglect countervailing evidence' if they decide a certain individual must be guilty.

'Psychologists call this "confirmation bias," Medwed said. 'After you develop a hypothesis, you see everything through that lens and interpret data in a way that confirms that view.'

[U.S. Circuit Judge Alex] Kozinski echoed similar sentiments to HuffPost, saying that when police are convinced of a person's guilt, this kind of 'tunnel vision' is 'probably the number one cause of wrongful convictions.'

This month, The Police Chief, the magazine of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, published an extensive report describing how 'tunnel vision' can lead to overturned convictions.

'This heuristic is particularly ill-suited to solving complex, dynamic investigations,' writes Dr. Kim Rossmo, a university chair and former detective inspector. 'Focusing on the first likely suspect, then closing the investigation off to alternative theories is a recipe for disaster.'
Yes, 'tunnel vision is a recipe for disaster, ask Penny Brummer. Of the many victims of tunnel vision, let's save one.

The Police Chief's piece on tunnel vision concludes:

Investigations should be led by the evidence, not by the suspects. Case conclusions should be deferred until sufficient information has been gathered, and tunnel vision should be avoided at all costs. Investigative managers must remain neutral and encourage open inquiries, discussion, and dissent. Assumptions, inference chains, and uncertainties need to be recognized and recorded. Outside help should be sought when necessary.

Being aware of these problems, however, is usually not enough. Police agencies need to establish organizational mechanisms to mitigate their risk.

Yes, like that's going to happen. There are careers at stake, Penny Brummer is suffering her wrongful conviction and life sentence for the sake of these careers and reputations.

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