RIT Criminal Justice Conference Sheds Light on Wrongful Convictions

April 20 conference addresses causes, consequences and solutions for reducing wrongful conviction cases

RIT hosts the New York State Wrongful Convictions Conference on April 20.

It’s a scenario that has been played out on Dateline NBC too many times to ignore: Someone is convicted of a crime and serves his sentence behind bars, all the while maintaining his innocence. Years later, evidence is uncovered proving that the court incarcerated the wrong person all along.

In an effort to bring attention to the growing number of wrongful convictions, Rochester Institute of Technology’s Department of Criminal Justice and Department of Psychology are hosting the New York State Wrongful Convictions Conference, “Justice Miscarried: Convicting the Innocent,” 8 a.m.–5 p.m. April 20 in Liberal Arts Hall, room A205.

The conference features presentations by experts in false confessions, eyewitness identification and litigation issues, as well as a first-hand account from Steven Barnes, an exoneree who will detail what it was like for him to be falsely accused, convicted and incarcerated for a crime he didn’t commit.

“This conference will help people truly understand the peer-reviewed research that explains why—despite their best intentions—eyewitnesses so often misidentify innocent people as the perpetrators of crime,” says LaVerne McQuiller Williams, associate professor and head of RIT’s criminal justice department. “It will also address why innocent people falsely confess to having committed crimes and the threat that prosecutorial misconduct presents in convicting the innocent.”

Other speakers include Jennifer Dysart, associate professor of psychology, John Jay College; Bennett Gershman, professor of law, Pace School of Law; Saul Kassin, distinguished professor of psychology, John Jay College; Peter Neufeld, co-founder and co-director, The Innocence Project; Karen Newirth, Eyewitness Identification Litigation Fellow, The Innocence Project; and Hon. Eugene Pigott, associate judge, New York Court of Appeals.

According to McQuiller Williams, attendees will walk away with an appreciation of how easily these issues can be addressed, thus minimizing the possibility that such errors will mislead police and the legal system away from the real perpetrators who remain in the community at large.

Registration is required for the conference, which is free for RIT students, $60 for RIT faculty, staff and alumni and $75 for the general public. Fees include lunch.

The conference is sponsored by RIT’s Department of Criminal Justice, Department of Psychology, New York State Defenders Association and The Innocence Project.

RIT in the News:
City Newspaper — April 10, 2012
Innocence lost for the wrongfully convicted

Democrat and Chronicle — April 6, 2012
Examining when justice goes awry

Democrat and Chronicle — March 23, 2012
Watchdog Report: DNA database, check; other reforms, no