e-discovery software to identify wrongful conviction trends

The American Bar Association (ABA) is undertaking a project to use Relativity ediscovery software to analyse data on cases to determine whether bias or other factors could have contributed to wrongful convictions.

Known as DFENDR, an acronym for Distributed Forensic Expert Network Delegating Review, the project has these three goals:

  • To collect data and identify the key factors contributing to wrongful convictions based on forensic science.
  • To improve the review process for wrongful convictions with the help of e-discovery technology.  Relativity’s e-discovery platform will be used to bring together the work of a network of legal and forensic experts.
  • To develop a talent pipeline by giving law and forensic science students real-world experience.

According to the National Registry of Exonerations, there were 168 people vindicated after being wrongly convicted of crimes in the US in 2016.

As its first focus, the DFNDER Project is looking to define the relationship between cognitive biases and two of the most common forensic techniques which produce invalidated or improper evidence: microscopic hair analysis and arson investigation. One of the recent reports published by the FBI, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), and the Innocence Project concluded that FBI testimony on microscopic hair analysis contained testimonial errors in more than 90 percent of cases in an ongoing review.

Using Relativity will allow the team to break the workflow into components, match those components with corresponding experts, and facilitate the review and analysis of case documents, including identifying cognitive bias and trends related to wrongful convictions.  Equipped with advanced analytics and powerful visualizations, Relativity will also allow the DFNDER Project to follow an investigative pattern of thought and make data-driven decisions around potential cases of wrongful conviction.

"With Relativity and a growing network of legal and forensic experts, the DFENDR Project should be better equipped to accelerate the review of wrongful convictions around the country," said Bryan Wilson, head of the DFNDER Project and a fellow at the ABA Center for Innovation. "We're looking forward to setting an example of how the legal community can use technology to fight injustices caused by incorrect assumptions about human behaviour."

Relativity provided the DFNDER Project with access to its e-discovery technology through the company's Academic Partner program, an educational initiative that equips law schools and paralegal programs with free access to hands-on training in Relativity and helps prepare students for future roles in the field.