Psychology of Law

Assignment Details – Wrongful Convictions

The entire course is really designed around the application of psychology to the legal system. This assignment is your chance to apply what you have learned to a particular case. Almost all of what I do in my own research relates to wrongful convictions; the factors that lead to them, and how to prevent them.

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For your paper, you will review the case details of a Canadian wrongful conviction. The paper should reflect your understanding of the factors that contributed to the conviction, and later exoneration. You should apply scientific, legal, and psychological concepts to your analysis of the wrongful conviction. While you may get a start with some of the information in the text or modules, the bulk of the paper should be based on *current* empirical research (ie peer-reviewed published scientific articles).

You will write a polished paper (3-4 pages, double-spaced, not including title page or reference list) which summarizes the legal case and conviction (no more than half a page), analyzes the evidence or case factors that resulted in the wrongful conviction (and were important in the exoneration) and review information from primary source articles that provide support for the problematic nature of that evidence (e.g., the fallibility of eyewitness memory, coercive police interrogation practices, etc.).

You will also provide at least one recommendation, based on psychological evidence, that could improve legal outcomes and reduce wrongful convictions, based on the evidence and facts of the case you have chosen (please note that this should be evidence and not opinion-based).

An important thing to keep in mind is that this course is called “PSYCHOLOGY and Law”, not Sociology, or Criminology. That means your paper needs to have a psychological basis, focus, emphasis, flavour, whatever you want to call it. The focus of the paper is really on demonstrating your in-depth knowledge of how things should work, if done properly. You will therefore be expected to know the latest empirical (experimental) research in your area of interest. Your paper should reflect that. You need at least 3 solid references, ones that are as current as possible. If there is one older paper that lays an important foundation for your work it is okay to include that too, as long as the majority of the research is current. These articles should come from peer-reviewed psychology journals, not “pop” psych sources, the “internet” (in general), or books (though you can include information from these other sources in addition to your main 3, but not instead of them). You should incorporate these references into your paper (as discussed below) and end with a specific recommendation. Note that your job is to incorporate this material into your paper by paraphrasing and summarizing the work (while still citing the source appropriately).

You should not be including direct quotes from these papers unless there is absolutely no other way to say something – you don’t want to cut and paste from others’ work but instead clearly demonstrate that you understand what you are reading. It is rare to find direct quotes in published journal articles. You also want to avoid any risk of plagiarism so if in doubt, please ask me – that is what I am here for.

The paper should not simply be a re-telling of a particular topic we have already discussed. It is also important to note that this paper should not be a literature review simply covering a topic that is already discussed thoroughly in the literature – the idea is to take that material and apply it to a particular case to show how it might be used.

Your perspective will be that of a research psychologist – not a clinician. So, please make sure to avoid getting into any clinical/diagnostic issues. This is not a clinical psychology course and your perspective will be more broad than this, focusing on experimental/empirical work.

Format

I don’t expect you to learn “legalese” in the few weeks that you are taking this course, so your term assignment only need conform to basic A.P.A. (American Psychological Association) style. Much of the information contained in the Publication Manual of the APA relates to details for empirical papers destined for publication (the authors hope) in scholarly journals such as those you will likely be accessing to research your own paper for the course. But you don’t need to worry about a Method section, Results, Discussion, and so on for your paper.

I am assuming that most of you are familiar with APA style – if not, you should know that perhaps the biggest feature of APA style over some other formats is the recommended way to cite works (books, articles, chapters, websites, etc.) that support something you’re saying. First of all, those are the only works you should cite, in a section called ‘References’ at the end of your paper; as opposed to a ‘Bibliography’, which refers to all the materials you read in preparation for the paper, but to which you did not necessarily actually refer. Second, you should cite those works the way the authors of our chapters do. If you write, “The crime rate in Canada has gone down slightly over the past 10 years”, you should cite the work from which you received that information by putting the author’s name and the date of the work’s publication in parentheses after your statement: “The crime rate in Canada has gone down slightly over the past 10 years (Smith, 2019).” You would then include the Smith work in your references section. All of this is opposed to using footnotes or endnotes for referencing purposes. You can use your textbook as a guide to how this should look, and you are welcome to talk to me about it any time. If you need any help in getting started with a topic, or trying to find appropriate sources, let me know and I can help to get you started. Start early – the research for this will take more time than what you can pull together the night before.

Remember that the penalty for late assignments is 5% per day.

Specific Details

Your paper should be approximately 4 pages long, double-spaced, based on 8.5 by 11 inch paper, with 1 inch margins. It should be in Word, or PDF format. You will need “enough” references to support your paper – in this case, at least 3, from peer-reviewed journals to ensure the most up-to-date information. While one of your papers can be ‘older’, the remainder should be from within the last 5 years. You will upload your paper to the drop-box under the assignment link. While there will be some variation here, you shouldn’t spend much more than half a page reiterating the background for your case. The bulk of the paper should be your literature review, but don’t forget to link everything back to your specific case example, and provide a conclusion and/or recommendation in this case. Please let me know if you have any questions.

So try to have fun with your paper. Choose a topic that you find intrinsically interesting. Use this as an opportunity to express your knowledge about a particular issue, and to learn more about it. You don’t have much space in which to demonstrate your expertise so pick one area you can then do lots of research on.

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