University to launch innocence project

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The University of Sydney has launched a new innocence project to review claims of wrongful conviction.

Launching in March, the Sydney Exoneration Project will combine forensic psychology and legal expertise to review cases for individuals who have met the criteria to have their conviction assessed by the project.  Undergraduate and postgraduate students in psychology and law will be able to apply to be supervised to review cases.

“Research shows eyewitness misidentification is by far the key cause of wrongful convictions, while other contributing factors can include false memories, false confessions, and laboratory error,” said founder and director Dr Celine Van Golde.

“The Sydney Exoneration Project applies forensic psychological research into memory and testimony to investigate these issues.”

The Sydney Exoneration Project said there is currently no reliable data to estimate the number of wrongful convictions in Australia but said that US researchers estimate that between 0.5 and five per cent of American convictions are recorded against innocent individuals. 

“Wrongful convictions happen in this country,” said David Hamer, associate professor of Evidence and Proof and Sydney Exoneration Project supervisor. 
“But without any real mechanism to identify and address them, Australian legal systems are left without a clear picture and means of amending miscarriages of justice.”

NSW had a DNA review panel which only lasted between 2007 and 2014 and failed to correct a single miscarriage of justice.  It only considered serious cases where producing a DNA profile would clear the defendant.

The Sydney Exoneration Project will consider cases where no DNA evidence is available, instead assessing eyewitness error and false confessions to verify a person’s innocence.

“Not Guilty: The Sydney Exoneration Project ultimately seeks social justice for those in need,” Van Golde said.