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Actual Innocence: Five Days to Execution, and Other Dispatches From the Wrongly Convicted Hardcover – February 15, 2000
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The Innocence Project is a pro bono civil rights organization that helps innocent people who have been unjustly imprisoned win their freedom through DNA testing. Run by Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld (known for their roles in the O.J. Simpson murder trial), the project has thus far managed to free 43 wrongly convicted people and has taken on the cases of over 200 more. In Actual Innocence, Scheck, Neufeld, and Pulitzer-winning columnist Jim Dwyer tell the stories of 10 of the men they have helped. How did these men wind up in prison--some on death row--for rapes and murders they didn't commit? The causes range from mistaken identification by the victims to sloppy police work--and, in some cases, outright dereliction of duty or fabrication of evidence. Far too often, cops lock on to their suspect early and decide that their instincts can't possibly be wrong--an attitude that can persist even after the falsely accused has been exonerated. "If he is innocent," says one investigator of a man who spent seven years in prison, "I wish him a good life, but I will have no remorse for him. I have no remorse for anyone that I have ever arrested."
Though the writing is not always graceful, what matters in Actual Innocence is not the quality of the prose but the importance of the Innocence Project's work. Scheck and Neufeld's commitment to justice is evident in each of these stories, and the problems they force us to address--not just concerning the imprisonment of innocent people but in restoring their lives upon release--cannot be ignored.
From Publishers Weekly
Scheck gained celebrity for his role in the defense of O.J. Simpson and the "nanny trial" of Louise Woodward. But most of his cases are unsung, and usually he gets involved later on, after a verdict of guilty has been handed down. He and partner Neufeld founded the Innocence Project to aid those who have been wrongly convicted--a failure of justice that occurs with frightening frequency, as documented in this startling expose. The Innocence Project alone has helped 43 wrongfully convicted persons--one was actually on death row for 12 years--gain their freedom, primarily through the use of new DNA techniques, which can be applied to old evidence (blood or, in the case of rape, semen). What Scheck, Neufeld and Pulitzer-winning Daily News columnist Dwyer offer here is a report on the many ways justice can go astray and an innocent person be convicted. Perhaps one of the more shocking of their revelations is the unreliability of eyewitness testimony; in addition to studies and statistics, they present a case in which three eyewitnesses separately identified the defendant as a rapist/robber: evidence uncovered by Scheck and Neufeld eventually exonerated him. Scheck and Neufeld offer a litany of such errors, along with detailed case histories: false "confessions," fraudulent lab results, junk science (particularly the use of hair typing as evidence), prosecutorial misconduct and inadequate defense lawyering have all led to convictions of the innocent. The authors offer concrete advice on how these dangers can be minimized (e.g., videotaping all police interrogations to ensure confessions aren't forced). This is an alarming wake-up call to those who administer our justice system that serious flaws must be addressed to protect the innocent. Literary Guild featured selection. (Feb.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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I have to reveal that I know Jim Dwyer, he is the brother-in-law of one of my good friends, I've read many of his other books and I have really liked them all, so I may be a bit biased in my review of his books.
If you are a fan of the podcast Serial or the TV show Law and Order or if you wonder about fairness of the criminal justice system in the US, this is a must read. While the information contained in this book may not help free Adnan Syed, it shows how many people are convicted with faulty evidence and unreliable eyewitness testimony.
Each chapter takes on a different broken part of the justice system, from eye witnesses, to jailhouse, snitches, faulty lab evidence, police misconduct, confessions, lazy attorneys etc... Its terrifying to think of how many people are wrongfully convicted of crimes and how long it takes to get them cleared in this country. And the even scarier part is that there aren't systems in place to punish those who withhold evidence, force confessions, or give false testimony...most of those people aren't charged, convicted or punished in any way. There are very few safeguards.
Once convicted of a crime its almost impossible to get back out. Some systems refuse to allow DNA testing after a conviction leaving innocent people in prison and even more startling are the times when DNA proves the person is innocent and the state won't allow them to be freed saying they must have been guilty in some way. 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 very convincingly argue that it would be a beneficial start.
The stories in this book are accessible and easy to follow but not preachy. If you have any interest in the law or justice this is a must read.
The most sobering point is that DNA -- which only has been useful for a few years -- can exonerate a prisoner ONLY IF the perpetrator left a smidgen of his DNA behind. Since this occurs in a small subset of cases (rapes and some murders), there is no way to prove easily that someone has been wrongfully convicted in other situations.
Rather than just point out the problems which result in wrongful convictions, the authors offer numerous suggestions, both throughout the text and in the conclusion. The most obvious one, which has only been adopted by a couple of states, is that, whether or not you are for or against the death penalty, executions should be suspended automatically until DNA evidence can be reviewed, if available. (Are you listening George W.?)
Again, this book is a must read. It's a quick read, but will undoubtedly leave a lasting impression.
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“Actual Innocence” is a legal term that refers to the wrongfully convicted.Read more