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Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong Hardcover – May 4, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


For six years now I have worked diligently within the innocence movement, and I often hear the question: 'How do wrongful convictions happen?' Convicting the Innocent gives all the answers. It is a fascinating study of what goes wrong, and it clearly shows that virtually all wrongful convictions could have been avoided. (John Grisham)

DNA testing is revolutionizing our system of criminal justice: this book shows why. By digging deep into the case files of exonerees, Brandon Garrett uncovers what went wrong in those cases and probably in many more we simply can't know about. Garrett makes a powerful case for how to improve criminal justice so that we dramatically reduce the number of wrongly convicted. (Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld, The Innocence Project)

This is an invaluable book, a comprehensive, highly readable but well-researched work examining the hows and whys of the law's ultimate nightmare--convicting the innocent. (Scott Turow, author of Innocent)

How can we stop sending innocent people to our prisons? As you turn the pages of this important and startling book, you will come to realize that wrongful convictions are not accidents. They are the tragic result of a criminal justice system in deep need of reform. (Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking)

It's common to say that DNA exonerations of innocent defendants provide a unique window on the weaknesses in our system of criminal investigation and trial. But what exactly do we see when we look through that window? Until now the answer has been pretty sketchy. Brandon Garrett has produced a far more detailed and complete picture of the lessons of DNA exonerations than anything else to date. This is an indispensable book for anyone wanting to understand or improve American criminal justice. (Samuel R. Gross, Thomas and Mabel Long Professor of Law, University of Michigan)

Garrett's book is a gripping contribution to the literature of injustice, along with a galvanizing call for reform...It's the stories in his book that stick in the memory. One can only hope that they will mobilize a broad range of citizens, liberal and conservative, to demand legislative and judicial reforms ensuring that the innocent go free whether or not the constable has blundered. (Jeffrey Rosen New York Times Book Review 2011-05-29)

Looking at the 250 people exonerated through DNA as of February 2010, Garrett aimed to determine how often...malignant factors had warped the criminal justice process at the expense of an innocent person (and to the benefit of an actual criminal who went unpursued). Garrett tracked down court transcripts and dug into case files. He then sliced, diced, sifted and collated the data. Some law professors would take a pass on this kind of grunt work. Garrett did not, and our justice system can be the better for it. (Kevin Doyle America 2011-08-15)

While false convictions are a recognized phenomenon, Garrett focuses much needed attention on potential solutions, offering concrete suggestions for reform. (Publishers Weekly 2011-08-15)

This book details some of the worst miscarriages of justice in U.S. history and describes how DNA evidence helped to right those wrongs...The book, what must be the most thorough treatment yet of wrongful convictions, is a first-rate examination of the human foibles and conflicts of interest hampering the pursuit of justice. (A. C. Mobley Choice 2011-12-01)

A uniquely valuable part of Garrett's book is a statistical appendix that provides a quantitative overview of the false convictions, their consequences, and the factors that contributed to them....It is hard to imagine seven pages more damaging to the claims of our system of criminal justice. (Richard C. Lewontin New York Review of Books 2012-02-23)

Garrett's book zooms out the view to give the reader a sense of the scope of the problems in our justice systems. But he does so in a way which I find both earnest and charitable. (Andrew Cohen The Atlantic 2012-12-14)

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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 376 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (April 4, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674058704
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674058705
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (60 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #726,824 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Garrett teaches law at the University of Virginia School of Law, where he has been a professor since 2005. His research on our criminal justice system has ranged from the lessons to be learned from cases where innocent people were exonerated by DNA tests, to research on false confessions, forensics, and eyewitness memory, to the difficult compromises that prosecutors reach when targeting the largest corporations in the world.

In 2011, Harvard University Press published Garrett's book, "Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong," examining the cases of the first 250 people to be exonerated by DNA testing. That book was the subject of a symposium issue in New England Law Review, and received an A.B.A. Silver Gavel Award, Honorable Mention, and a Constitutional Commentary Award. It has been translated in Japan and Taiwan, and a translation is forthcoming in China. In 2013, Foundation Press published a casebook, "Federal Habeas Corpus: Executive Detention and Post-Conviction Litigation," that co-authored with Lee Kovarsky. Garrett's new book examining corporate prosecutions, titled "Too Big to Jail: How Prosecutors Compromise with Corporations," was published by Harvard University Press in Fall 2014.

Garrett lives in Charlottesville, Virginia with his wonderful family. In all of his spare time, he tries to paint.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By laurenpie on November 20, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This book has shaken me and radically altered my world view. At fifty, it's rare to undergo such a paradigm shift, but this book has opened my eyes. Though I've nothing to do with our justice system (I'm an average Jane), I CANNOT recommend this book HIGHLY ENOUGH, I hope EVERYONE reads it.

I've gone through my life blissfully unaware of the inherent weaknesses of our justice system. I've trusted that our American courts are fair, that we are innocent until proven guilty, and that (virtually) all incarcerated convicts are guilty.

No longer. Brandon Garrett has laid out, step by step and case after case after case, how easily we can go wrong. I was struck especially by the fact that these horrific errors are often committed by upright and moral detectives, prosecutors and judges, who truly mean well and fully believe they're simply getting the perpetrator, and yet they are so wrong. Yet another example of, "The heart is deceitful above all else": We're (innocently) so sure we're right, and yet we MUST follow all the checks and balances regardless, because our strong "gut feelings" significantly influence us and yet could be SO WRONG and we'd not even know it... and the consequences are just too high.

I truly appreciate the author's work and hope we'll see change coming.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Bevis Schock on August 15, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Criminal Attys and Civil Rights Attys take note.

This book will be helpful in your practice in three ways. First, it will make you incensed at the reckless conduct of govt officials, and so will inspire you to continue to give it your best shot every day. Second, it will give you grist for the cross-examination mill as you prepare your cases for trial, because you will have conveniently at hand examples of how investigators and prosecutors have improperly fulfilled their duties in various common situations. Third, it will let you know that there have been substantial financial awards against the govt for improper conduct in wrongful conviction cases, and so it will let you know there are financial rewards for those willing to serve as "private atty general" in the right matters.

The book is well-written, succinct, and not hortatory.

I am delivering a copy of the book to some of my local friends in the criminal bar and I expect they will be intrigued.

Finally, it is possible, but not likely, that as this book gains traction, at some times, in a few places, in a portion of cases, some govt officials will feel guilty about their misconduct, perhaps particularly because of the harsh glare of publicity, and so they will clean up their act. Don't count on it.

Bevis Schock, Atty, St. Louis
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Hubert Shea on August 20, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In this book, Professor Garrett has studied trial transcripts of 250 wrongfully convicted people to unfold "what has gone wrong" with the current criminal justice system in the US.

According to him, there are serious systemic failures in criminal prosecutions that cause wrongful conviction. It is also difficult for convicts to claim their innocence under the lengthy appeals and habeas proceedings:-

1. Innocent people can be involuntarily succumbed to undue police pressure and deceptive interrogation techniques (Reid technique, "Mutt and Jeff", "False Evidence" "Good Cop, Bad Cop" techniques) (P.22) to make "coerced-complaint" confessions to crime they did not commit during interrogations (P.18). Besides, police can feed details of crimes to innocent people in which confession statements are constructed as if innocent people volunteered a litany of details about the crimes like true culprits could have known. Although the US Constitution regulates confession statements via two key principles: the "Miranda" warnings (protections to shield suspects from coercion) and the requirement of voluntariness (P.36), judges always believes that confessions that corroborated by detailed facts are apparently reliable and voluntary.

2. Even though innocent people are reluctant to make confessions to crime they did not commit during interrogations, they can become convicts due to other corrupted evidence, including eyewitness misidentifications, flawed forensics, and trial by liar. The police can misdirect witnesses to pick out of innocent people during "suggestive" or "prompting" identification procedures (live lineup, mug shots, witness book, composite image (P.52). Eyewitness memory can be fallible and those multiple procedures have reinforced false identifications.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By R. Harold on June 28, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a careful analysis of two hundred fifty convictions that were vacated by DNA evidence. Professor Garrett describes what went wrong when innocent people were convicted. Reviewing trial transcripts and court documents, Professor Garrett exposes junk science expert witnesses, manufactured confessions, manipulated identifications and lying witnesses. Whether deliberate or unintended, police, prosecutors and courts have failed all of us by putting innocent people in prison while the guilty are still free committing crimes. Professor Garrett proposes reasonable reforms that would reduce erroneous convictions that only a few states have adopted. This is an important book if we hope to be a civilized society.
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