See Inside Scientific American Mind Volume 23, Issue 6

Your Brain on Trial

Lessons from psychology could greatly improve courtroom decision-making, reducing racial bias, eyewitness errors and false confessions

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On January 18, 2011, Kevin Benefield was convicted of the rape and murder of Barbara Pelkey in Wallingford, Conn. Benefield was deemed guilty on the basis of DNA evidence, which exonerated Kenneth Ireland, the man initially convicted of the crimes. Ireland's newfound freedom was bittersweet. It arrived only after he had spent more than 20 years in prison, having been arrested at age 18 and convicted wrongfully in 1989.

Ireland is hardly alone. Stories of people cleared of crimes following erroneous convictions have become ubiquitous fixtures of the news cycle. Many of these errors have been exposed with the aid of welcome scientific advances, especially DNA analysis. But wouldn't it be better if a systematic approach were available to help prevent wrongful convictions and other serious miscarriages of justice in the first place?

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