Duke University Brings Together Medicine, Policy, and Law to Study Criminal Justice System

Duke University announced today the establishment of an interdisciplinary center that will apply legal and scientific research to criminal justice reform. Brandon Garrett, a leading scholar of criminal procedure, the death penalty, and wrongful convictions and an author and professor of law at Duke, will lead the Center for Science and Justice.

The center brings together scholars in law, medicine, public policy, and the arts and sciences to pursue research, policy, law reform, and education in three areas:

  • Accuracy: Building on Garrett’s studies of the causes of wrongful convictions in cases of people exonerated by post-conviction DNA testing, Duke researchers are studying how to better explain to jurors the fallibility of evidence such as eyewitness memory and fingerprint comparisons.
  • Risk: Duke researchers are studying why judges often do not follow recommendations of risk assessments to divert offenders from prison to the community, and why more resources may be needed to promote alternatives to incarceration. Researchers are collaborating with the Durham District Attorney’s office to implement and study alternatives to pre-trial detention and to incarceration.
  • Needs: A report released by Garrett and his team documented how more than 1.2 million people in North Carolina have suspended driver’s licenses, the long-term consequences of those suspensions, and the resulting racial and class-based disparities. The study was made possible through a collaboration with the N.C. Justice Center and the Supreme Court’s Access to Justice Commission.

The school shared the news of the center while hosting Yusef Salaam and Raymond Santana, subjects of the current Netflix series “When They See Us” and two of the Exonerated Five in the infamous Central Park jogger case. As a new lawyer, Garrett was part of the team that represented Salaam. He also provided legal aid to the Exonerated Five in the cases the men filed against the City of New York after their convictions were overturned.

The Charles Koch Foundation is committing $4.7 million to support the center.

“At Duke Law School, we are building on our deep strengths in criminal law to create new opportunities for students and faculty to take the lead in studying and shaping approaches to criminal justice reform,” said Kerry Abrams, James B. Duke and Benjamin N. Duke Dean of the School of Law. “The Center for Science and Justice will be an integral part of educating students who aspire to make the criminal justice system of the future better and fairer for everyone.”

Garrett’s previous work at Duke has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Atlantic, and at TheAppeal.org. Click here to read the grant agreement.

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