When we are trying to establish what our criminal justice system should look like and what reforms might be necessary, there are a couple of pitfalls we should keep in mind. Chief among these is the just world hypothesis. The impulse to view the world as fair, and to expect people get what they deserve, can really impede our ability to recognize it when justice fails. Wrongful convictions are real and all too common. There are a lot of organizations like the Innocence Project that do the underfunded and relatively thankless job of fighting for exonerations for the wrongfully convicted. Most of these wrongful convictions were preventable if we took the effort to reform the way police interrogations work, prevented plea bargaining for testimony, restructured the jury selection process, worked to prevent bias in witness identification, and a number of other welldocumented factors. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to convince people who are not well educated on these issues that something needs to be done, because of the assumption that they wouldn’t have been convicted if they hadn’t done something wrong.
We can also see how the fundamental attribution error can impact how people on juries and the public at large view the accused. It is all too easy to recognize external mitigating or causal factors when we are accused of wrongdoing, but to ignore those factors when others are in similar situations.