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Actual Innocence: When Justice Goes Wrong and How to Make it Right Paperback – December 2, 2003

ISBN-13: 978-0451209825 ISBN-10: 0451209826 Edition: Reprint
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Editorial Reviews


A troubling portrayal of the criminal justice system from within its well-guarded walls.” —New York Times“Required reading for anyone who believes that only the guilty are put to death…A catalog of appalling miscarriages of justice.” —Washington Post"[A] chilling look at judicial corruption and incompetence.” —New York Daily News“Should be required reading for...our justice system.”—Philadelphia Inquirer

About the Author

Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld, once lawyers with the Bronx Legal Aid Society, co-founded The Innocence Project, which seeks post-conviction release through DNA testing. They are among the most prominent civil rights attorneys in the U.S.

Jim Dwyer is the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the New York Daily News and author of several other books.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: NAL; Reprint edition (December 2, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0451209826
  • ISBN-13: 978-0451209825
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #65,814 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Warren C. Lathe on February 7, 2002
Format: Mass Market Paperback
The authors belong to the "Innocence Project", an organized attempt to determine the innocence or guilt through recently available DNA evidence of those convicted of murder/violent crimes. In over 80 cases the were able to _prove_ the innocence of the wrongly convicted, many on death row.
This book results from that project and outlines in each chapter some of the failures of the justice system in these cases including the unreliability of eyewitnesses, incompentant defense lawyers, poor laws and more. The book is straightforwardly written and very easy reading. It is also a strong indictment against our current justice system. Unlike many 'critical' books, the authors also offer suggestions for changes that would help improve our justice system and lower the number of the wrongly convicted.
This book has gotten me to think so much about our system of justice and the ramifications, that we have decided to us it as a book in our family book club and I view some experiences now through the prism of this book (recent experience with hearing two very different stories from two people of the same exact event). That a book has affected the way I percieve things is a mark of a good book.
The one criticism I have of the book is that there is not enough supporting evidence. Though I know the focus of the book is what they had learned from the Innocence Project and not a research survey, I would like to have seen more collaborative statistics and references in each chapter (perhaps an appendix with a few studies and further reading would have been welcome).
Still, it is an important and interesting book and well worth reading.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Jonathan Marin on July 25, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
The book details the history of ten cases of men who served years in prison for crimes committed by others, and touches briefly on perhaps a hundred other cases. As human interest, it is compelling. As an insight into the "system" it is chilling.
Police lie. Laboratories fudge or falsify forensic tests. Prosecutors withhold exculpatory evidence from the defense, and use testimony they know to be untrustworthy without checking it out. (They haven't done anything wrong unless they *know* it to be false. One prosecutor used the "jailhouse confession" testimony of a witness, even though a man put on death row by similar testimony from that same witness had been exonerated and released.) Governors drag their feet in granting pardons to men whom DNA tests have conclusively proven to be innocent. (A prisoner in Oklahoma remained incarcerated for 6 years after the lab results had exonerated him.)
Defense lawyers -- often working for very low pay -- don't bother to challenge prosecution witnesses, or introduce solid alibi witnesses. They sometimes become so miffed at their clients' refusal to accept a plea bargain, they refuse to prepare them for the witness stand, or even talk with them.
Only a small sampling of criminal cases involve biological evidence, but it is a fair random sample. DNA exonerations are a window into a system afflicted with very deep rot. The book contains many common sense suggestions for improvement. At the heart of many of them is accountability. Police and prosecutors run essentially no chance of getting caught for fabricating evidence or falsifying testimony. Once convicted and in prison, the defendants are buried there.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Gerard T. McGuire on March 22, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
DNA has uncovered a number of truths. Not since finger print identification became main streamed has science had such a tumultuous impact on criminal investigation. The truth of DNA, according to the authors, is that an alarming number of innocent people have been sentenced to death. While the book serves as a sounding board to discuss the benefits of DNA its merit rests more in its overall discussion of the criminal justice system.
This book is a non stop series of accounts of justice gone wrong. While Shceck and his cronies are heavy with their opinions, the problem is that even if you dont like them, you cant argue with the science. Through their accounts they relay stories of men wrongly convicted by mistaken identity, misled witnesses, shabby defense attourneys, police bumblings, and even law enforcement and prosecutorial misconduct. All of these grievous errors were realized due to DNA testing.
More alarming than the number of innocents convicted and possibly executed is the trend for prosecutors and judges to disallow DNA testing after convictions. The facts according to the authors are that there are thousands more that could be freed with DNA testing.
Although science is not the stop gap for flaws in any criminal justice system, the authors convincingly argue that it would be a beneficial start. The opinions and accounts in this book are both informative and entertaining.
The book reads well and holds interest throughout. It loses a star due to the more often than not preachy tone of the authors. There point is better taken with the facts and not the lecturing. However it is a book well worth reading and must have for true crime and sociology fans.
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