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Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong Paperback – August 6, 2012

4.6 out of 5 stars 61 customer reviews

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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)

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

  • Paperback: 376 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; Reprint edition (September 3, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674066111
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674066113
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #48,114 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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Format: Paperback
There are probably more innocent men and women in prison in the United States now than there were people in prison here total -- innocent and guilty -- 30 years ago, or than there are total people in prison (proportionately or as an absolute number) in most nations on earth.

I don't mean that people are locked up for actions that shouldn't be considered crimes, although they are. I don't mean that people are policed and indicted and prosecuted by a racist system that makes some people far more likely to end up in prison than other people guilty of the same actions, although that is true, just as it's also true that the justice system works better for the wealthy than for the poor. I am referring rather to men (it's mostly men) who have been wrongly convicted of crimes they simply did not commit. I'm not even counting Guantanamo or Bagram or immigrants' prisons. I'm talking about the prisons just up the road, full of people from just down the road.

I don't know whether wrongful convictions have increased as a percentage of convictions. What has indisputably increased is the number of convictions and the lengths of sentences. The prison population has skyrocketed. It's multiplied several fold. And it's done so during a political climate that has rewarded legislators, judges, prosecutors, and police for locking people up -- and not for preventing the conviction of innocents. This growth does not correlate in any way with an underlying growth in crime.

At the same time, evidence has emerged of a pattern of wrongful convictions. This emerging evidence is largely the result of prosecutions during the 1980s, primarily for rape but also for murder, before DNA testing had come into its own, but when evidence (including semen and blood) was sometimes preserved.
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