Sunday, June 15, 2014

Actual Innocence

Actual Innocence: When Justice Goes Wrong and How to Make it Right, by Barry Scheck, Peter Neufeld, and Jim Dwyer, is a disturbing read. Telling the stories of numerous men who were wrongfully convicted, it breaks down the nightmarish phenomenon into a handful of significant problems in our criminal justice system. The book gets its heart from the personal cases which highlight the Kafkaesque horror endured by each innocent man. But the strength of Actual Innocence is in the analysis of these cases and the way the writers explain the problematic nature of eyewitness testimony, jailhouse informants, false confessions, poor defense lawyering, prosecutorial and police misconduct, weak science, and fraudulent experts.

Two of the writers are founders of the Innocence Project which uses DNA testing to exonerate people (when appropriate evidence is available). The emergence of this technology has exposed the injustices in the system and has made it clear how broken it can be. Writing in 2003: "Since the first edition of this book went to press at the end of 1999, DNA tests have freed one innocent person from prison or death row every eighteen days -- at this writing, twenty people in the last year. That rate could easily have been one or two people going free every day if biological evidence had not been lost or destroyed in thousands of cases or if more prisoners enjoyed access to DNA testing."

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