Live from Munsterberg

A quick report from Day 1 of “Off the Witness Stand,” which is off to a great start. Kicking things off was a panel comprised of Janet Reno, Jim Doyle, Jeremy Travis, and Hon. John Martin.

Jim Doyle opened up with his characterization of this conference as a sort of “do-over” of the historic dialogue between Hugo Munsterberg and John Henry Wigmore, which scared Munsterberg and other social scientists away from the courts for most of the last century, on the grounds that more data and more research were necessary before the social sciences were ready for the rigors of a well-crafted cross-examination. Now, the studies have been done, the science is in, and Reno and others see this conference as an opportunity to make new efforts at bringing science and the law more closely into alignment.

Jeremy Travis, former director of the National Institute of Justice, told the story of receiving a call from Janet Reno when she was the US Attorney General under Clinton. She was reading an article in the Washington Post about a man who had just been released from prison after 10 years of wrongful conviction, which was overturned by way DNA test results that cleared him from involvement. That story led Ms. Reno to investigate how many other cases there were like this one, and then to root out the causes. That investigation led to the study published as “Convicted by Juries, Exonerated by Science,” (PDF) which told the tale of 26 DNA exonerees, almost all of whom had been convicted based on faulty eyewitness testimony and, ultimately, a failure of science to inform the criminal justice system.

More to come from John Jay in the days ahead.

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