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  • Lora Levett

Fall 2020 News

Updated: Dec 5, 2020

This semester in the LEAD Lab has definitely been an unconventional one due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the switch to virtual schooling. Despite the craziness, we’ve been able to make it work! This semester we have a large team of 22 individuals in lab, which is the most we have ever had! All research this semester is taking place virtually, and we conduct our weekly lab meetings over Zoom. We have a good number of projects taking place this semester as well, such as our coding project looking at multiple eyewitness identification, Alexandra Gomez’ thesis project, and Nicole and Amanda’s study interviewing exonerees. Here is some more information about each project taking place:

Alexandra Gómez is currently a senior, double majoring in English and Criminology with a minor in Sociology. She graduates in the Spring and plans to attend law school in the Fall of 2021. Gómez first became involved with the LEAD lab in Fall 2019, following her summer partnership with the Greenwich Innocence Project. As a research assistant, she assisted in the creation of the wrongful conviction database. Presently, her research focuses on the use of the death penalty as a barging chip in the plea deal process. Though executions are becoming rarer, capital indictments are not. Over 90% of criminal cases in the United Sates are resaved by plea deal and prosecutorial hard bargaining tactics are often used to secure these plea deals and maintain conviction rates. Capital cases are no different and in these cases the incentive to accept a plea might be heightened due to promises of reduced sentences. Gómez is specifically interested in how the threat of the death penalty can be leveraged to induce a quicker plea bargain. Her independent study investigates the link between negotiation theory and criminal procedure and seeks to develop an understanding of the use and misuse of the death penalty as a potential motivator for an innocent person to take a guilty plea. After conducting a qualitative literature review, Gómez is now utilizing the National Registry of Exonerees’ data to study the frequency of plea deals in murder/manslaughter cases in death penalty states.

Nicole Guillen is a senior, doubling majoring in Psychology and Criminology with a minor in Communication studies. She is graduating in the Spring and plans to attend graduate school to pursue a career in Creative Activism. Her research interests include wrongful convictions, erroneous eyewitness testimony, and false confessions. Nicole is currently working on her senior thesis project, which focuses on the mental health of exonerees and the accessibility to mental health resources for individuals who have been wrongfully convicted. Nicole is working closely with Amanda Lewis, who is currently a fifth year PhD student at the University of Florida. Amanda is passionate about working with exonerees and reforming the criminal justice system to reduce mass incarceration and assist individuals and families who have been impacted by the prison system. Amanda is currently working on her dissertation, which focuses on the impact of wrongful conviction on the interpersonal relationships between exonerees and their immediate family following release from prison. Together, Amanda and Nicole have been conducting qualitative interviews through Zoom with exonerees from around the country in order to gather data for their study. If you would like to read more about this project, click here.

We are incredibly proud of each and every one of our students in lab this semester. Their perseverance and dedication to legal psychological research in the midst of the current events taking place in the world is outstanding. We cannot wait to see what they accomplish and what the future has in store!

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