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Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrongby Brandon L. Garrett
Synopses & Reviews
On January 20, 1984, Earl Washington—defended for all of forty minutes by a lawyer who had never tried a death penalty case—was found guilty of rape and murder in the state of Virginia and sentenced to death. After nine years on death row, DNA testing cast doubt on his conviction and saved his life. However, he spent another eight years in prison before more sophisticated DNA technology proved his innocence and convicted the guilty man.
DNA exonerations have shattered confidence in the criminal justice system by exposing how often we have convicted the innocent and let the guilty walk free. In this unsettling in-depth analysis, Brandon Garrett examines what went wrong in the cases of the first 250 wrongfully convicted people to be exonerated by DNA testing.
Based on trial transcripts, Garrett’s investigation into the causes of wrongful convictions reveals larger patterns of incompetence, abuse, and error. Evidence corrupted by suggestive eyewitness procedures, coercive interrogations, unsound and unreliable forensics, shoddy investigative practices, cognitive bias, and poor lawyering illustrates the weaknesses built into our current criminal justice system. Garrett proposes practical reforms that rely more on documented, recorded, and audited evidence, and less on fallible human memory.
Very few crimes committed in the United States involve biological evidence that can be tested using DNA. How many unjust convictions are there that we will never discover? Convicting the Innocent makes a powerful case for systemic reforms to improve the accuracy of all criminal cases.
"Set against the backdrop of recent DNA exonerations of 'convicted' felons,Â University of Virginia Law School professor GarretÂ delves deep into the reasons why the system fails, and successfully isolates and analyzes these errors. As Garrett exposes the systematic causes of wrongful convictions, he also identifies the costs to the falsely accused individuals and to society, especially distrust of the criminal justice system among minority communities. In support of the latter point, Garrett notes that 70% of the first 250 DNA exonerees were minorities. The list of factors contributing to wrongful convictions may shock even knowledgeable readers: false and contaminated confessions; eyewitness reports; forensics evidence misconstrued, undeveloped, or ignored: 'trial by liar'; the use of jailhouse informants; incompetent defense counsel; and prosecutorial misconduct, among others. While false convictions are a recognized phenomenon, Garrett focuses much needed attention on potential solutions, offering concrete suggestions for reform. (Apr.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Book News Annotation:
Contaminated confessions, eyewitness misidentifications, flawed forensics--these are the subjects of the first three chapters of this investigation based on the first 250 people exonerated by DNA evidence. Garrett (law, U. of Virginia Law School) relates case details--the crime, the investigation, the judicial process-- and identifies repeated problems that cause innocent people to be judged guilty. DNA analysis has been an extraordinary tool for exonerating prisoners and catching bad guys--but the number of cases where such evidence exists is a very small proportion of the total number of convictions--so there's a probability that there are many wrongly convicted prisoners who will never be exonerated. In the final chapter the author offers ideas for reforming the criminal justice system, and he calls for action. Annotation ©2011 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
DNA exonerations have shattered confidence in the criminal justice system by exposing how often we have convicted the innocent and let the guilty walk free. In this unsettling analysis, Garrett examines what went wrong in the cases of the first 250 people exonerated by DNA testing, and proposes systemic reforms.
About the Author
Brandon L. Garrett is Roy L. and Rosamond Woodruff Morgan Professor of Law at the University of Virginia School of Law.
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