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Cognitive bias may play a role in wrongful convictions

In some cases, police or prosecutors in South Carolina and other states will engage in misconduct that wrongfully sends a defendant to prison. However, researchers from Texas State University say that defendants are wrongfully convicted based on a variety of other factors. For instance, police may develop tunnel vision after identifying the individual who they believe likely committed the crime. Instead of objectively viewing the evidence, authorities may try to make it fit their narrative.

If a case is featured prominently in the news, authorities may have a greater incentive to show that they have found whoever committed the crime in question. In one case, a teenager spent 16 years in prison after police got him to falsely confess to committing rape. In 2006, he was freed after DNA evidence cleared him of the crime. According to a member of the Innocence Project, this was an example of how the goal of a typical interrogation is to get someone to admit to a crime.

Researchers say that it may be necessary to train authorities to recognize biases and root them out. It may also be a good idea to review how evidence collected as well as the standard for taking a person into custody. The current probable cause standard has been criticized for being too low and not based on the actual probability that someone broke the law.

Those who are being charged with a felony or misdemeanor may benefit from having an attorney help with their case. An attorney may be present in the room when a defendant talks with police or other investigators. Legal counsel may take steps to protect a person's rights such as having evidence thrown out before a trial if it was collected in violation of their rights. An attorney may also recommend that a person not speak to authorities.

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