NEW: Duke Scientific Integrity Associate Interviews Brandon Garrett About Criminal Legal System

Emilia Chiscop-Head, Ph.D. and Scientific Integrity Associate at Advancing Scientific Integrity, Services and Training (ASIST) recently caught up with Wilson Center Director Brandon Garrett about the criminal legal system, structural racism and policing reforms.

Brandon L. Garrett, JD is the inaugural L. Neil Williams, Jr. Professor of Law and came to Duke in 2017 from the University of Virginia, where he was the White Burkett Miller Professor of Law and Public Affairs and Justice Thurgood Marshall Distinguished Professor of Law. Garrett is a leading scholar of criminal procedure, evidence, and constitutional law. His research areas include forensic science, eyewitness identification, corporate crime, civil rights, habeas corpus, and criminal justice policy.

Garrett’s work has been cited by the US Supreme Court and other courts in the U.S. and internationally. He has initiated law reforms, including the American Law Institute’s project on policing, for which he serves as Associate Reporter. Garrett maintains online data sets that are made available to the public and are being used in criminal justice practice and education, including: “End of Its Rope: Data on Death Sentencing,” “Corporate Prosecution Registry” and “Convicting the Innocent: DNA Exonerations Database.”

The interview below focuses on his 5th book, “End of Its Rope: How Killing the Death Penalty Can Revive Criminal Justice” (Harvard University Press, 2017) and the “Autopsy of a Crime Lab,” which will be published in spring 2021. Garrett reveals evidence-based, insightful and timely details about systemic racism in the criminal justice system and policing reforms that he suggested.

What inspired you to write “End of Its Rope”?

Brandon Garrett: In 2017, I published “End of Its Rope,” a book that explores what can explain the remarkable drop in death sentencing in the United States. As a law professor, I knew that the rules for how you impose death sentences had not changed. When I was a law student first learning about criminal law, death sentencing had reached its modern height – over 300 sentences a year. In states like North Carolina, Virginia, Texas, it was routine to have dozens of death sentences in a single year. I did not anticipate that death sentencing in this country was about to fundamentally change, and enter into a freefall, which has continued for two decades now. In my book, I explored why this happened. A lot of data collection needed to be done because there were not case-level death sentencing information from the 1990s to present. Over several years, with a team of law students who worked incredibly hard, we were able to build a data set that included death sentencing from 1990 through the present. We've made the data available on a research website.

The goal of the book was to use that data as a starting point to unpack what are the different factors that can explain this remarkable modern death penalty decline, and what are the lessons can we learn from the fall of modern death sentencing.

The rest of the article continues a Q&A about Garrett's work, research and his thoughts on science. Read the full article here.