Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong
Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong is one of only three or four books that provide readers with an overview of the entire wrongful conviction problem in the United States. Two are more than a decade old, and one focuses on how the problem was studied by a citizen’s commission in one state. That would seem to make Convicting the Innocent a book to read by default if you want to understand how false convictions happen. Even if there were more competition, Convicting the Innocent would stand out as a highly readable and important study. The subtitle hits the bull’s-eye. This book makes it clear just how wrongful convictions occur. It opens a window on the problem by examining 250 cases where there is virtually no doubt that entirely innocent people spent decades in prison for serious crimes they did not commit.
There is no doubt about the innocence of Jeff Descovik, Ronald Jones, Habib Abdal, Gary Dotson, David Gary, Earl Washington, Jr., Kennedy Brewer, Frank Lee Smith, Ronald Cotton, Darryl Hunt—and 240 additional cases that inform Garrett’s book—because they were officially exonerated when their DNA profiles absolutely did not match DNA evidence related to the crime. Other facts confirm that the exonerees were not involved. In almost half of the cases, the “other facts” included linking DNA profiles to the actual killer or rapist.
Brandon Garrett, a professor at the University of Virginia Law School, has worked closely with the Innocence Project and has published law journal articles on pieces of the wrongful conviction puzzle. He has drawn on his unparalleled knowledge of these cases to provide an information-packed and often eye-opening account of what went wrong. Along the way he lists simple statistics (counts and percentages) that help one understand the proportionate size of the issue at hand. The big question he asks is: Do the relatively few wrongful convictions described in the book reflect systematic failures that run through every state and local criminal justice system?