Class Investigates Capital Punishment Cases

Posted: June 11, 2002 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Jeremy Lasich

A group of 10 undergraduate honors students at George Mason has released a report detailing the inadequacies in capital prosecutions that resulted in wrongful convictions. Coming on the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Cockrell v. Burdine, the report details needed improvements for the investigation and prosecution of capital cases.

“These students represent one of the few groups nationwide to review capital punishment without an ideological agenda,” says Jon Gould, assistant director of the Administration of Justice program. “Some of the students support capital punishment, others seek its abolishment. But all agree that if capital punishment is to be exercised, it must be administered more carefully than has been permitted. If a group of undergraduates from various perspectives can agree on recommendations for change, then surely our policymakers can attempt the same.”

The report and conclusions are based on months of research and investigation, supervised by Gould. The students also presented their findings to a panel of justice officials, including a former U.S. attorney general.

Combing over 90 cases in which a defendant on death row was later exonerated, the students focused on three cases for intensive research: Louisiana v. Graham, Florida v. Smith, and Idaho v. Fain. They found several common problems, including investigative errors, faulty eyewitness identifications, and prosecutorial misconduct.

As a result of their research, the students have proposed 15 recommendations to avoid wrongful convictions in the future. The recommendations include the establishment of statewide standards for the qualification and performance of capital defense attorneys; the establishment of an oversight body to review complaints of ineffective assistance of counsel; and validating eyewitness testimony before introducing it as evidence.

For more information, view the press release or contact Gould at x38481 or


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