Magical, Mystical, Mysterious Clemencies – Justin Brooks at TEDxSanDiego 2016

We see it each year at Thanksgiving time. A small crowd on The White House lawn, family members of the President gathered around while the star of the show, a turkey, is granted a pardon from becoming the day’s meal from the President himself.

With presidential clemency powers, it is within the president’s rights to save a bird (or two) each year, but more importantly, this power grants the President the right to pardon wrongfully imprisoned people.

This power has been exercised numerous times throughout history for not only full release from federal prison, but also to reduce sentences.

Along with the President, governors are provided the same power at the state level. This is significant because, as Justin Brooks, director and co-founder of the California Innocence Project, said, the United States incarcerates more people than any country in the world – most of which are incarcerated in state prisons. Additionally, California is the state with the most people in prison.

“To get a case opened in California is an incredible task,” Brooks said during his talk at TEDxSanDiego. “To un-ring that bell to get a court to say ‘we’re going to take a second look at this case’ … it’s a really difficult process.

To catch the attention of California Governor Jerry Brown, and in turn his clemency powers, Brooks and his team identified 12 compelling cases from all cross sections of the state’s communities to take to Brown as a petition for clemency.

But just sending a petition wasn’t enough to get his petition. So Brooks, and two lawyers from his office, set out to walk the petitions all 712 miles from San Diego to the state capitol in Sacramento and hand deliver them to the governor’s office.

As the title of his TEDxSanDiego presentation alludes to, clemencies can be magical, mystical and mysterious, especially when you’re wondering what became of the 12 case petitions that were walked straight to the governor’s office.

Justin Brooks Profile

Justin Brooks on Twitter

California Innocence Project

Simple LIne Break

Why Eyewitnesses Fail – Thomas Albright at TEDxSanDiego 2016

From NPR’s “Serial” podcast to the Netflix series “Making a Murderer,” faulty eyewitness testimony has become a recent hot topic in pop culture chatter. While this issue has been around for a long time, recent advances in technology – especially DNA evidence – have resulted in more convictions being overturned.

Along with these shows, which are based on actual cases and include examples of eyewitness testimonies being called into question, the Innocence Project has reported nearly 350 DNA-based exonerations, with 3/4 of those cases counting on eyewitness identification for significant evidence that lead to a conviction.

So why do eyewitnesses identify the wrong people?

“There are insurmountable limits to visual perception and memory that are imposed by our biological nature and the properties of the world that we inhabit,” said Thomas Albright, professor and Conrad T. Prebys chair at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.

According to Albright, and various research studies conducted over the past few decades, there are three factors that affect the usefulness of reported experience:

  • Uncertainty
  • Bias
  • Confidence

“Vision in general is far from perfect,” he said.

So, are eyewitnesses who testify in court not telling the truth? Not necessarily, according to Albright. In fact, when witnesses testify in court with confidence their description of the event – which they believe to be true – it’s difficult for the jury to discount their version of what happened.

Organizations, such as the National Academy of Sciences, are starting to take note of the limitations of human perceptions and memories, especially in the area of eyewitness accounts.

As the old saying goes, “Seeing is believing, but neither seeing nor believing is equivalent to truth.”

Thomas Albright Profile

Simple LIne Break