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"An innocent can become a convict in the US criminal justice system
, August 20, 2011
This review is from: Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong (Hardcover)
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. Judges rarely suppress eyewitness identifications and the five-factor "Mason test" and other eyewitness reliability tests are deeply flawed (false confidence, discrepancies in descriptions, opportunity to view, degree of attention, the passage of time, cross-racial identifications, child witnesses).
The practice of forensic science (serology, microscopic hair comparison, bite mark comparison, shoe print comparison, voice comparison) (P.94, P.95, P.102, P.105) is pervasively flawed and unreliable to solve any crime, according to Professor Garret. The presentation of forensic evidence can be entirely one-sided because forensic analysts testify for the prosecutors (DNA testing, Fingerprint comparison) (P.100, P.107). There are also malpractices in crime laboratories which lead to testing procedures in an invalid way. Moreover, prosecutors usually use jailhouse informants (P.123), (P.139), and codefendants (P.141) in order to plug all of the holes in criminal cases (jack-of-all-trades). Those informants can lie in the face of "stick-and-carrot" techniques used by prosecutors (P.130).
3. During trial, Innocent people from lower class always fail to afford talented attorneys and expert witnesses to assert their innocence. (P.149, P.163, P.165). They cannot present a strong defense and make access to substantial investigative resources in contrast to prosecutors. There are cases that prosecutors and polices have concealed evidence that can help the defense case.
Between Chapter 7 and 8, Professor Garret has criticized appeals and habeas proceedings to be lengthy and unfair. A wrongfully convicted person served 14 years in prison between his trial and his exoneration (P.180). Some of the innocents have spent a long time (3 years for Frank Lee Smith who finally died of cancer before DNA testing completion) to apply for a DNA testing protest their innocence (P.214). Moreover, the appellate and post-conviction procedures do not effectively look at factual instead of legal errors and judges are unwilling to second-guess the verdict of the jury.
According to Professor Garret, the current criminal justice system is becoming a "titled played field" (P.176) to wrongfully convicted people. The psychological and physical impact of a false conviction is huge. Innocents are in jail before exoneration and true culprits can continue to be free to commit to other crimes.
Nonetheless, the evolving DNA technology has exonerated the innocents and set them free, Professor Garret has maintained that the current criminal justice system should be practically reformed, ranging from criminal procedures (P.244), interrogation (P.247), eyewitness identification (P.249), forensic science (P.252), Jailhouse informant (P.256), death penalty (P.257), prosecution (P.259), defense (P.260), federal reforms (P.261). The appendix chapter contains different findings of this study with charts and graphics. Readers can also gain access to [...] if they are interested in procuring detailed summaries of all the cases of those innocent people under study.
Professor Garret has successfully guided readers to understand the root causes of the problem in the US criminal justice system and what could prevent wrongful convictions via different reforms in the system. Lessons learnt from this book can be very insightful and relevant to members of criminal justice system in other developed and developing countries who have aspired to prevent wrongful convictions in the future.
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