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Cases, causes of wrongful conviction in spotlight


11 December 2007

Cases and causes of wrongful conviction in the spotlight

The accuracy of forensic DNA evidence, the investigative interviewing of witnesses and suspects, and the high-profile cases of Scott Watson and Peter Ellis are among presentations from speakers at the inaugural Innocence Project New Zealand conference,

Based at Rutherford House, Wellington, from 13-15 December, the international conference will bring together prominent scientists and legal experts whose work has influenced the criminal justice system to offer a cross-disciplinary examination of scientific evidence in the courtroom.

It is the first conference of its type hosted by the Innocence Project New Zealand – a joint venture between Victoria University and the University of Otago established in May to represent people in New Zealand who are serving or who have served long prison terms for criminal offences and who claim they are innocent.

Speakers over the two days include:

Mike White, senior writer North & South Magazine: The Case of Scott Watson – Did We Get It Wrong? Mike White, current Qantas New Zealand Magazine Feature Writer of the Year, will present an overview of the Watson case looking at the key factors that led to his conviction. He will also give a journalist’s view of the role of the media in such cases.

Professor William Thompson, School of Social Ecology, University of California, Irvine: Evaluating Forensic DNA evidence. Professor Thompson will run a workshop to familiarise legal and criminal justice professionals with the strengths and possible limitations of the current generation of forensic DNA tests. It aims to provide knowledge needed to evaluate DNA evidence in a critical manner in order to assure that it is used properly and fairly.

Professor Harlene Hayne, Department of Psychology, University of Otago: An Empirical Analysis of the Evidential Interviews in the Peter Ellis Case. Professor Hayne's study compared the quality of questions in the Ellis case with the quality of the questions in another high-profile childcare case conducted in the United States involving a defendant named Kelly Michaels.

Matthew Gerrie, School of Psychology, Victoria University: Approaches to Eyewitness Identification Evidence Reform. Mr Gerrie will discuss the ways in which eyewitnesses' memory errors that lead to wrongful conviction can be prevented. He will also discuss New Zealand's approach to eyewitness identification reform (through the Evidence Act) and make recommendations on how to improve procedures in New Zealand so that miscarriages of justice can be avoided in the future.

Dr Maryanne Garry, School of Psychology, Victoria University: The Trouble with Memory. Dr Garry will describe some of the misconceptions of the way human memory works, and the trouble that these misconceptions cause when applied in the legal system. Specifically, she will describe how memory is a complicated process by which memories are updated whenever the brain receives new information.

Dr Devon Polaschek, School of Psychology, Victoria University: Insisting on Innocence: Consequences in Prison. Based on her practical and research experience with the psychological rehabilitation of prisoners, Dr Polaschek will outline some of the assumptions underlying rehabilitation of prisoners; how psychologists respond to men who insist that they are innocent, and the obstacles that wrongful conviction poses for people who want both to retain their dignity and make a good impression on those who manage them.

A full conference programme can be read at:

and more information about the Innocence Project can be read at:


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