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Texas researchers spotlight dire effects of “confirmation bias”

We lead off today’s blog post at Hilder & Associates with a reference to investigators’ efforts in federal drug trafficking cases.

We note on our website that probes into alleged trafficking activity are typically deep-pocketed affairs. Task forces command plenary resources and are resolute about making arrests. Prosecutors are determined to secure convictions marked by notably severe penalties.

It is just such cases -- high-profile, impressively staffed matters with deep coffers to sustain them -- that have come under the scrutiny of a tandem research team of Texas State University criminologists. Kim Rossmo’s and Joycelyn Pollock’s central findings in their recent work focusing on police conduct in select interrogations are notable and merit close consideration in the criminal justice realm.

The study’s thrust was an exacting analysis of scores of wrongful conviction cases. Police and prosecutorial bad faith is often pointed to in such matters, but Rossmo and Pollock say that other key factors often also drive investigative failures.

“Confirmation bias” is at the top of the list. The university research team highlights evidence from 50 wrongful conviction cases that points to cops’ tunnel vision focus in building their cases following initial instincts concerning a particular suspect’s guilt.

The implications of that can obviously be severe for wrongly targeted individuals. Rossmo and Pollock spotlight police “groupthink” and related pressures to quickly identify wrongdoers and obtain convictions. They say that such a combination of factors can lead investigators to “ignore or minimize countervailing evidence and interpret evidence in a way that supports their initial conclusions.”

That is not always the case, of course, but the sobering empirical research into wrongful convictions stands unrefuted and unquestionably underscores material concerns.

Above all, it highlights the need for any criminal suspect facing potentially harsh penalties to timely secure the tailored assistance of a proven criminal defense legal team.

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