Getting it Right: An Interdisciplinary Assessment of Decisionmaking in the Criminal Justice System

January 27, 2010Duke Law News

February 18, 2010 - Duke Law School’s Center for Criminal Justice and Professional Responsibility, the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences, and the Social Science Research Institute at Duke University, are co-hosting an interdisciplinary seminar to be held at the Law School (Room 4055) from 4:00-8:30 p.m. on Thursday, February 18, 2010. The seminar, entitled “Getting It Right: An Interdisciplinary Assessment of Decisionmaking in the Criminal Justice System,” is intended as a fact-gathering session for a larger interdisciplinary project – “Science and the Search for Truth: Use of Scientific Knowledge to Detect and Prevent Miscarriages of Justice in the Investigation and Trial of Criminal Cases.”

The Center’s work in criminal justice (and, specifically, in the area of wrongful convictions), has revealed that many scientists and scholars at Duke University and elsewhere are involved in cutting-edge research that has the potential to improve the truth-finding function of the criminal justice system. Yet many of these scientists and scholars are unaware of this practical application for their work, primarily because they are unfamiliar with how the criminal justice system works. Similarly, many of the actors in the criminal justice system are unaware of the work of these scientists and scholars and of its relevance. As a result, little systematic thought has been given to the identification and incorporation of scientific knowledge into the criminal justice system. This interdisciplinary project proposes to change that. Drawing from important developments in neurology, behavioral sciences, psychology, and social sciences, this project will explore how, in non-DNA cases, science can unravel wrongful convictions. In considering how science can detect the corruption of truth in criminal investigations and trials, it will seek to develop tools for students, defense attorneys, prosecutors, and judges to identify, remedy, and prevent the wrongful conviction of innocent people – and more generally improve the accuracy and reliability of the criminal justice system.

For the February 18th fact-finding seminar, the Center is bringing together about twenty-five local legal experts and scholars across the disciplines of neuroscience, medicine, sociology, economics, anthropology, history and psychology, to begin to identify the scientific developments and perspectives that should be explored further and represented at any future meetings associated with the developing larger project. As context for the discussion, the evening will begin with a brief overview of the criminal justice system and some excerpts from an Academy Award-winning documentary film, “Murder on a Sunday Morning,” which dramatically and efficiently illustrates a number of problem areas in the criminal justice system that could benefit from an interdisciplinary investigation. Afterward, the group will have dinner and engage in a roundtable discussion about the ways in which the various disciplines might inform aspects of the identified problems.

The principal organizers of this event are as follows:

James E. Coleman Jr., J.D., Director, Center for Criminal Justice and Professional Responsibility, Duke Law School, (919) 613-7057, jcoleman@law.duke.edu.

Alexandra Cooper, Ph.D, Social Science Research Institute, Duke University, (919) 681-3902, cooper@duke.edu.

Philip Costanzo, Ph.D., Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, Duke University, (919) 660-5717, costanzo@duke.edu.

David Fitzpatrick, Ph.D., Director, Duke Institute for Brain Sciences, and Department of Neurobiology, Duke University Medical Center, (919) 684-5385, fitzpat@neuro.duke.edu.

Kimberly Kisabeth, J.D., Fellow, Center for Criminal Justice and Professional Responsibility, Duke Law School, (919) 613-8519, kisabeth@law.duke.edu.

Theresa A. Newman, J.D., Executive Director, Center for Criminal Justice and Professional Responsibility, Duke Law School, (919) 613-7133, newman@law.duke.edu.

Pate Skene, Ph.D., Department of Neurobiology and Duke Institute for Brain Sciences, Duke University, (919) 681-6346, skene@neuro.duke.edu.

Neil Vidmar, Ph.D., Member of the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences and cross-appointment in the Department of Psychology and Neurosciences, Duke Law School, (919) 613-7090, vidmar@law.duke.edu.
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