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NIJ's Indigent Defense Portfolio

In the U.S., an indigent person accused of a serious crime is entitled to the appointment of defense counsel at the state's expense. Providing indigent criminal defendants with access to effective legal counsel is critical to ensuring due process. Research will help the field understand barriers to obtaining legal representation, identify and assess how to address these barriers, and develop recommendations.

NIJ's indigent defense research portfolio focuses on:

  • Increasing the amount of rigorous research on indigent defense.
  • Developing tools to improve the quality of indigent defense.
  • Enhancing understanding of the issues surrounding the availability of indigent defense services.

And NIJ's research portfolio continues to grow. In 2012, NIJ awarded more than $1.6 million to three organizations to evaluate efforts to improve indigent defense in the U.S. The research includes:

  • An empirical evaluation of the holistic approach to indigent defense.
  • An examination of factors that influence juveniles to waive their right to counsel.
  • An examination of the resource constraints and the practical and ethical challenges of representing indigent defendants who have mental health disorders.

Learn more about current and past indigent defense research.

Predicting and Preventing Erroneous Convictions

Why are innocent people wrongfully convicted in certain cases, yet acquitted in others? Research is starting to uncover what happens.

NIJ-funded researchers at American University compared cases in which innocent defendants were wrongfully convicted to "near misses" — cases in which an innocent defendant was acquitted or had charges dismissed before trial. The researchers identified 10 statistically significant factors that could lead to a wrongful conviction. For example, young defendants with previous criminal histories were more likely to be wrongfully convicted. An honest, inadvertent misidentification also increased the likelihood of erroneous conviction. The researchers developed a model that could be used to help prevent wrongful convictions in the future.

Learn more about wrongful convictions.

Race, Trust and Police Legitimacy

Personal interactions have the strongest impact on perceptions. People form opinions of law enforcement, for example, based on their own interactions with officers or the experiences of trusted friends and family. Research shows that an officer's demeanor and actions are crucial to perceptions of police legitimacy. Citizens are more likely to take a positive view of law enforcement if officers communicate well, listen and treat citizens with respect.

Read more about law enforcement and legitimacy.

Watch and listen to New York University's Tom Tyler describe legitimacy as it pertains to profiling and community policing.

Watch an interview with Yale Law School's Tracey Meares about deterrence and legitimacy.

Fingerprint Database Interoperability

Fingerprint databases sometimes do not "talk" to each other because of differences in technology or decisions related to policy and practice. As part of NIJ's priority to strengthen the forensic sciences, it is funding the Latent Fingerprint Interoperability Survey. The survey will help NIJ understand the barriers to fully automated, cross-jurisdictional interoperability. It will collect information about:

  • The types and functions of fielded automated fingerprint identification systems in state and local agencies.
  • The current policy agreements among jurisdictions that permit sharing, exchanging and searching latent fingerprints electronically.
  • The technological and regulatory factors that affect electronic sharing, exchanging and searching latent fingerprints across various jurisdictions.

Learn more about latent fingerprints and the database interoperability survey.

Sharing Data to Improve Science

Secondary data analysis allows researchers to build on existing findings, replicate results and conduct new analyses. Through NIJ's Data Resources Program, data collected as a part of NIJ research are archived and made available to support new research aimed at reproducing original findings, replicating results and testing new hypotheses.

When an NIJ-funded study ends, researchers submit their data to the National Archive of Criminal Justice Data, which has been collecting data since 1978. The National Archive was created as part of the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research at the University of Michigan.

Recent data sets added to the National Archive include:

  • Developing Uniform Performance Measures for Policing in the United States: A Pilot Project in Four Agencies, 2008-2009
  • Course of Domestic Abuse Among Chicago's Elderly: Risk Factors, Protective Behaviors, and Police Intervention, 2006-2009
  • Assessing the Practical and Monetary Efficacy of New Jersey's Megan's Law, 1972-2007
  • National Survey of Juvenile Justice Professionals, 2005-2007
  • Determinants of Chicago Neighborhood Homicide Trends, 1980-2000
  • Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Under Public Law 280, 2003-2005
  • Defining Law Enforcement's Role in Protecting American Agriculture From Agroterrorism in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas, 2003-2004

Learn about accessing and using research data from NIJ studies.

Research Updates

The following NIJ Web pages have been updated with additional research findings:

  • Elder abuse: NIJ's research on identifying elder abuse includes projects that look at bruising in elders, cause-of-death determinations, potential markers for elder abuse, and better tools to assess psychological and financial abuse. Read more about elder abuse.
  • Offender re-entry: Offender re-entry — the transition from life in jail or prison to life in the community — can have profound implications for public safety. Learn more about NIJ's most recent research on re-entry and employment.
  • Tribal crime and justice: NIJ's tribal crime and justice portfolio aims to (1) provide an accurate report of crime and violence; (2) provide reliable, valid estimates of the scope of the problem; and (3) identify barriers to and possible solutions for dealing with these significant public safety issues. Visit the updated pages.
Date Created: December 5, 2013