Selena Ponio | November 16, 2017
Second year Notre Dame law student Erika Gustin is more involved in what happens after a trial than during.
“Before I started law school I started looking into wrongful conviction statistics and information on my own, which is absolutely horrifying,” Gustin said. “It came out off an interest in process improvement. Everything is a process and everything can be improved.”
Gustin is involved in the Notre Dame Exoneration Project, a group working with the Chicago Exoneration Project to represent inmates who were wrongfully convicted and get them out of jail. She said a lot of wrongful convictions usually result from eyewitness misidentifications, faulty human memory or leading questions from the police.
“A lot of it tends to involve some kind of misconduct. It can either be official misconduct, police or prosecutors, or it might just be a bad process,” she said. “[In] 12 percent of exoneration cases with misidentification, they found the police pointed out or made clues about who they wanted to pick.”
Gustin said wrongful convictions can also result from placing too much stock in eyewitness testimonies.
“You also find instances where the suspect is shown to the witness multiple times,” she said. “The human brain is really good at copying and pasting faces onto other bodies. In many cases they’re not lying — they’re just unfortunately incorrect in what they remember.”