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SPA Justice Study Has Global Reach with Research Interest in Australia

Judge's gavel

What started as a US-focused student-faculty research project has resulted in an interest in examining the project's data in the context of the judicial system in Australia.

Katie Hail-Jares, SPA/PhD ’15, Belen Lowery-Kinberg, SPA/PhD ’17, Kathryn Dunn, a current SPA doctoral student, and SPA Professor Jon Gould co-authored a paper titled “False Rape Allegations: Do they Lead to a Wrongful Conviction Following the Indictment of an Innocent Defendant?” published in Justice Quarterly in November.

In an analysis of 207 criminal cases in the United States, the researchers found the justice system works well at identifying false allegations early in investigations, and they generally do not have a bearing on wrongful convictions. Research shows that false rape allegations reduce the odds of a wrongful conviction by nearly 10 times.

Just as doctors conduct a review when a medical case goes wrong, Hail-Jares, a research fellow at the Criminology Institute at Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia said, "It is important to examine the justice system when an innocent person is convicted. This kind of analysis can lead to needed reforms."

In this study, the SPA researchers’ sample examined cases in which the defendants were either wrongfully convicted for sexual assault or had the charges against them dismissed. The team found 32 cases — or 16 percent — involved a false rape allegation. Those false allegations accounted for 4 percent of the wrongful conviction cases and 46 percent of near misses, in which charges against factually innocent defendants were dismissed.

Now, some of Hail-Jares’ students at Griffith are using the data to test the model in Australia, extending the reach of AU’s work globally.

“The fact that the research will be done in Australia too suggests that many of the issues we struggle with in the U.S. justice system are faced elsewhere,” said Gould, whom Hail-Jares worked with as a research assistant.

Hail-Jares became interested in false allegations after having worked in sexual assault victim advocacy and hearing concerns voiced about innocent defendants going to prison based on false allegations. Her research findings reveal that when someone fabricates a story it can create an opportunity for police to investigate and often find out the allegation is not true, stopping the charges from going forward.

Rather than concern about false allegations derailing a case, the paper provides evidence that untrue charges are highly unlikely to result in a wrongful conviction. That knowledge can make a big difference in the judicial process, says Hail-Jares.

Now as an advisor, Hail-Jares has a doctoral student replicating the project with the wrongful conviction data using an Australian sample. The new analysis will look at how innocent people come to the attention of the police at the beginning of cases.

“It’s so exciting to see how this has come full circle,” said Hail-Jares. “We are seeing the next generation of scholars use this data from AU and can conduct this research again in different cultural settings.”