The Evidence of Things Not Seen: Non-Matches as Evidence of Innocence

Author:James S. Liebman - Shawn Blackburn - David Mattern - Jonathan Waisnor
Position:Professor, Columbia Law School - J.D., Columbia Law School, 2011 - J.D. Candidate, Columbia Law School, 2013 - J.D., Columbia Law School, 2012
Pages:577-688
SUMMARY

Exonerations famously reveal that eyewitness identifications, confessions, and other "direct" evidence can be false, though police and jurors greatly value them. Exonerations also reveal that "circumstantial" non-matches between culprit and defendant can be telling evidence of innocence (e.g., an aspect of an eyewitness’s description of the perpetrator that does not match the suspect she... (see full summary)

 
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The Evidence of Things Not Seen:
Non-Matches as Evidence of Innocence
James S. Liebman, Shawn Blackburn, David Mattern & Jonathan Waisnor
ABSTRACT: Exonerations famously reveal that eyewitness identifications,
confessions, and other “direct” evidence can be false, though police and
jurors greatly value them. Exonerations also reveal that “circumstantial”
non-matches between culprit and defendant can be telling evidence of
innocence (e.g., an aspect of an eyewitness’s description of the perpetrator
that does not match the suspect she identifies in a lineup, or a loose button
found at the crime scene that does not match the suspect’s clothes). Although
non-matching clues often are easily explained away, making them seem
uninteresting, they frequently turn out to match the real culprit when
exonerations reveal that the wrong person was convicted. This Article uses
“non-exclusionary non-matches” and what would seem to be their polar
opposite, inculpatory DNA, to show that: (1) all evidence of identity derives
its power from the aggregation of individually uninteresting matches or
non-matches, but (2) our minds and criminal procedures conspire to hide
this fact when they contemplate “direct” and some “circumstantial” evidence
(e.g., fingerprints), making those forms of evidence seem stronger than they
are, while, conversely, (3) our minds and procedures magnify the
circumstantial character of non-exclusionary non-matches, making them
seem weaker than they are. We propose ways to use circumstantial matches
and non-matches more effectively to avoid miscarriages of justice.
See JAMES BALDWIN, THE EVIDENCE OF THINGS NOT SEEN (1985).
Simon H. Rifkind Professor, Columbia Law School. Thanks to Alexandra Blaszczuk,
Leslie Demers, Robert King, and Abshir Kore for superb research assistance. This Article is
dedicated to David Baldus, who until his recent death was the Joseph B. Tye Professor of Law at
The University of Iowa. As a pioneer in bringing the disc ipline of science and rigorous
inquiry—and the courage to confront the facts as best we can discern them and as troubling as
they may be—to the analysis of the operation of the criminal justice system, Professor Baldus
was an inspiration for this Article and for all of our work. We are deeply saddened by his death.
 J.D., Columbia Law School, 2011.
 J.D. Candidate, Columbia Law School, 2013.
 J.D., Columbia Law School, 2012.
578 IOWA LAW REVIEW [Vol. 98:577
I. INTRODUCTION: THE UNDERUSE OF NON-EXCLUSIONARY NON-
MATCHES TO AVOID WRONGFUL CONVICTION ..................................... 580
II. THE AGGREGATE POWER OF NON-EXCLUSIONARY NON-MATCHES
ON THE QUESTION OF IDENTITY ............................................................ 588
A. PEOPLE V. ADAMSON REVISED ......................................................... 588
B. R V. ADAMS REVISITED ..................................................................... 595
III. JUDICIAL RESISTANCE TO AGGREGATIVE ANALYSIS OF MATCHES AND
NON-MATCHES ....................................................................................... 597
A. OBJECTIONS TO PROBABILISTIC PROOF GENERALLY: PEOPLE V.
COLLINS ......................................................................................... 597
B. OBJECTIONS TO AGGREGATIVE ANALYSIS OF MATCHES AND NON-
MATCHES ........................................................................................ 600
IV. STANDARD IDENTITY EVIDENCE AS AGGREGATIONS OF MATCHES AND
NON-MATCHES ....................................................................................... 601
A. THE COMPATIBILITY OF AGGREGATIVE ANALYSIS AND CRIMINAL
JUSTICE ............................................................................................ 601
1. Confessions, Eyewitness Identifications, and
Fingerprints as Aggregative Evidence .................................. 601
2. The Courts’ Enthusiastic Embrace of Aggregative
Analysis: Inculpatory DNA ..................................................... 605
B. THE ADVERSARIAL SYSTEMS ABILITY TO DOMESTICATE
AGGREGATIVE ANALYSIS ................................................................... 610
C. MODERN DATA MINING AND THE BROAD AVAILABILITY OF
FREQUENCY INFORMATION ................................................................ 618
D. AGGREGATIVE USE OF NON-EXCLUSIONARY NON-MATCHES OUTSIDE
OF COURT ........................................................................................ 623
V. COGNITIVE, STRUCTURAL, AND LEGAL IMPEDIMENTS TO USING
NON-EXCLUSIONARY NON-MATCHES .................................................... 623
A. COGNITIVE RESISTANCE .................................................................... 624
1. Heuristic Economization ....................................................... 624
2. The Representativeness Bias ................................................. 624
3. The Simulation, Confirmation, and Certainty Biases .......... 629
a. The Simulation Bias ........................................................... 629
b. The Confirmation Bias ....................................................... 631
c. The Certainty Effect ............................................................ 633
4. The “Uniqueness Fallacy” ...................................................... 636
5. The “Irrelevance Fallacy” ....................................................... 642
B. STRUCTURAL DISADVANTAGES .......................................................... 650
1. Reasons To Doubt the Adversarial Antidote ........................ 650
2013] THE EVIDENCE OF THINGS NOT SEEN 579
2. The Biasing Effect of the State’s Monopoly over the
Initial Investigation ................................................................ 651
C. LEGAL OBSTACLES ........................................................................... 657
1. Rules Distinguishing “Direct” and “Circumstantial”
Evidence .................................................................................. 657
2. Rules Regulating Police Investigations ................................. 659
3. Rules Regulating Discovery ................................................... 663
4. Rules Limiting Evidence of a Third Party’s Guilt ................ 667
5. Rules Limiting Statistical Evidence ....................................... 670
VI. SENSIBLE REGULATION OF NON-EXCLUSIONARY NON-MATCHES AS
EVIDENCE OF IDENTITY .......................................................................... 673
A. NEW TOOLS TO IMPROVE LAY DECISION MAKERS APPRECIATION OF
AGGREGATIVE ANALYSIS ................................................................... 674
B. MANAGEMENT-BASED REGULATION OF NON-EXCLUSIONARY NON-
MATCHES AS EVIDENCE OF IDENTITY ................................................. 679
1. Management-Based Regulation ............................................ 679
2. Regulation of “Big” Evidence of Identity.............................. 681
3. Regulation of “Small” Non-Matches ..................................... 685
VII. CONCLUSION ......................................................................................... 687

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