The results of research conducted by wrongful convictions scholar Jon Gould of American University indicate that 10 factors help explain why an innocent defendant, once indicted, ends up erroneously convicted rather than released. These include:

  • age and criminal history of the defendant
  • punitiveness of the state (in other words, heavy on the law and order pedal)
  • Brady violations (when information favorable to the defendent is not given to the defense attorney)
  • forensic error
  • inadvertent misidentification
  • lying by a non-eyewitness
  • weak prosecution and defense case
  • family defense witness

Other factors traditionally suggested as sources of erroneous convictions, including false confessions, criminal justice official error, and race effects, appear in statistically similar rates in both sets of cases; thus, they likely increase the chance that an innocent suspect will be indicted but not the likelihood that the indictment will result in a conviction. Finally, qualitative review of the cases reveals how the statistically significant factors are connected and exacerbated by tunnel vision, which prevents the system from self-correcting once an error is made. In fact, tunnel vision provides a useful framework for understanding the larger system-wide failure that separates erroneous convictions from near misses.