Emily Hughes is collaborating with Professor Kori Khan from Iowa State University to analyze more than 70 trial transcripts and gain insights about the criminal justice system.
Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Emily Hughes, senior associate dean and the Edward F. Howrey professor of law, joined the Iowa Law faculty in 2011. She previously was a professor at Washington University in St. Louis School of Law and co-directed the co-directed their Criminal Justice Clinic.

Hughes also has worked as a public defender for the Office of the Iowa State Public Defender and as a Sacks Fellow at Harvard Law School's Criminal Justice Institute, representing juveniles and adults on misdemeanor and felony charges. Her teaching and research specializes in criminal law and procedure.

We caught up with Professor Hughes to learn more about her summer research.

Can you tell us about a research topic you are working on this summer? 

I am working on a jury trial project with Professor Kori Khan from Iowa State University.  We are analyzing trial transcripts from more than 70 criminal jury trials that took place in one year in one courthouse in Ohio. Our study is unusual because we have trial transcripts from cases that resulted in not guilty verdicts as well as guilty verdicts.  


How does the research strengthen the area of law you are in? 

My research and teaching focus on criminal law, criminal procedure, and legal ethics. Analyzing these trial transcripts provides key insights into a wide range of everyday criminal cases, as opposed to the high-profile cases that usually make the news.

We believe our database may be one of the largest databases of trial transcripts in the U.S. It's a vast resource of information to help analyze what is working well in our criminal legal system, as well as what could be improved—and how to improve it. 


What are emerging trends you are seeing in this area of legal research? Any high-profile cases currently looking at this issue?

There have been a lot of high-profile cases with forensic evidence or criminal defendant testimony, so it's interesting to see how our findings from everyday criminal cases compare with the big cases that make the news. 


Where do you see opportunities for more research in this field?  

We are analyzing every part of the trials in a series of articles, such as the impact of defendants' testimony and the use of forensic evidence. There are opportunities for more research across the whole spectrum of criminal law and legal ethics. 

By exploring these findings, our study suggests that greater access to data from state criminal trials is critical to better understand the significance of all the steps we take for granted in criminal trials—such as how rules of evidence are working, how criminal defendants decide to testify or not testify, or how prosecutors and defense attorneys decide to use (or not use) forensic evidence.

What we don’t know matters because misunderstanding the reality of how criminal trials actually work could undermine the right to a fair trial and trust in the criminal legal system.