Actual Innocence: Five Days to Execution, and Other Dispatches From the Wrongly Convicted
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Actual Innocence: Five Days to Execution, and Other Dispatches From the Wrongly Convicted

4.08 of 5 stars 4.08  ·  rating details  ·  352 ratings  ·  41 reviews
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...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published February 15th 2000 by DoubleDay (first published 2000)
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Jenee Rager
I can honestly say this is one of the only books that has completely changed my life. Before reading I was a fence sitter on the subject of the death penalty, and most often I leaned towards being pro death penalty. While reading I saw so many ways that the court system could and does fail to ever support legalized death in this country again. I can not remember the case name off the top of my head, but the story about the red haired man from Missiouri who was wrongly convicted and sentenced to...more
Lewis Weinstein
The cases Barry Scheck cites will make you ill. Innocent people going to jail or execution because prosecutors hid evidence, or created it.
Chrisiant
First things first, if inspiration for righteous indignation is not what you're looking for in reading material, look elsewhere. Second, the book is fifteen years old, so the landscape on this issue has changed a bit since this was written (for one thing, 49 states now have DNA access laws, which was not the case in 1999).

That said, this book does a really fantastic job of telling the story of what it was like as DNA testing became a possibility for proving innocence in courts of law. The author...more
Ilze
I agree with the death penalty in theory, in that those who willfully take the life of another do not deserve life for themselves. But ultimately, the death penalty is impractical to apply in real life. There is too much of a chance that an innocent person will be executed. So reluctantly I am against the death penalty, and this book explains why better than I could.
Bob
I've known about Scheck and Neufeld's Innocence Project for many years, and have taught about the unreliability of eyewitness identifications in my Constitution class, but I'd never gotten around to reading the full story until now, prompted by a reference to it in Being Wrong. Although the state of both DNA evidence and recognition of eyewitness fallability - including particularly cross-racial identifications - is much advanced in the ensuing decade, the book is a powerful condemnation of the...more
Dennis Littrell
Scheck, Barry, Peter Neufeld and Jim Dwyer. Actual Innocence: Five Days to Execution, and Other Dispatches from the Wrongly Convicted (2000)*****
How DNA testing is freeing the wrongfully convicted

The worse thing our judicial system can do is to convict an innocent person. It's not merely that an innocent person goes to jail, or even that the real criminal is free to commit more crimes (although such things are horrible), but, more significantly, it is through such actions that our faith in the l...more
Jeff Doucette
Discusses: emergence of DNA science; mistaken identification by eye witnesses and victims; false confessions resulting from psychological interrogation; Accused criminals falsely snitching on other accused criminals in an effort to reduce their sentences for other crimes; expert scientist-witnesses presenting junk science or outright lying about their lab work; government misconduct; and lack of access to adequate legal counsel for people of low-income.

The authors, two of whom founded the pro-bo...more
Caitlin
I'm not usually much for non-fiction, but I devoured this book. I have a long tradition of absent-mindedly buying recommended but not required books for classes, and this was just such a book for a course I have in Wrongful Convictions.

This is a non-lawyer's book, truly, and it's written in a sort of clunky third-person. It's authors are prominent lawyers who are part of the Innocence Project, which does exactly what you think it does. The book is a pastiche of stories about the dozens (hundreds...more
Adam
A great look into the founding of and reasons behind the Innocence Project, spurred by the case of Marion Coakley who, wrongfully imprisoned, was freed with the help of former public defenders Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld.

Through the chapters of this book, the authors help to explain not only the horror of wrongful convictions but just how these atrocities come to pass in our supposedly 'fair' justice system.

Cases are presented and describe to explain and highlight phenomenon from junk science...more
Clare
The information presented in this book is incredibe. Scheck et al run through the basics of about a dozen cases of wrongful imprisonment where innocent men wound up in prison, usually on death row, and were later exonerated by DNA evidence through the work of the Innocence Project - some spending more than a decade behind bars for crimes demonstably committed by others. Unfortunately, the writing is really bad. Timelines are sloppy, metaphors are unintentionally hilarious, and much of the book r...more
Paul Bond
Arguments with respect to capital punishment often reach an impasse as follows. The proponent of keeping death as a tool of punishment will admit the theoretical risk of mistakes, but propose some limiting principal. "Well, but when we have [eyewitness testimony/DNA/a signed confession]" or some other form of highly regarded evidence, "then surely we can be certain enough impose the sentence." ACTUAL JUSTICE rebuts such certainties root and branch, documenting how human limits, biases, errors, a...more
Jeremy
This book made me proud to be a lawyer but ashamed of our legal system at the same time. Proud because it reminded me that lawyers are the first line of defense against tyranny but ashamed because of how many of us stand down for the sake of convenience or celebrity. I came away from this book with the disturbing conclusion that we humans are fallible and that we are not entirely convinced of our own fallibility. But on questions of life and death--not just that of the suspect, but of the victim...more
Sarah
This is a MUST read for everyone - particularly anyone who thinks innocent people don't confess to crimes they did not commit (they do), thinks it impossible that prosecutors seek convictions rather than justice (it isn't), thinks forensic scientists are incapable of forging biological evidence (they aren't), thinks police don't use abusive and coersive tactics (they do) or believes we don't incarcerate - and execute - the innocent (we do). This book will open your eyes. Please read, please lear...more
Mel Tungate
I read this book for one reason - to get Scheck's view on Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz, two men wrongly convicted of murder, and the subject of Innocent Man, by John Grisham.

I figured Grisham's book would be a better read, and it was. But, Scheck et al do a good job giving a summary, and putting the evidence, trial and freeing of the two men into perspective.

The prosecutor, Bill Peterson, was clearly out of control, though Scheck treats him tenderly since The Innocence Project often has to re...more
Chris Pederson
Weak eye witnesses, false confessions, pseudo science, jail house snitches, fraudulent evidence, inept defense, malicious prosecution, racial prejudice, emotional blindness..... just a few of factors that come into play with innocent people being sent to prison and death row in the USA. And it doesn't help that politicians have defunded defense for the guilty and that people in general want 'someone to pay', who cares if the person is actually the one who committed the crime?
Channelle
If you want to talk about injustice, this is it. After you read this book you feel like everyone is wrongfully convicted. Most important, you begin to see the truth about the way people are prosecuted and see that unfair trials happen way more often than you think. It's unreal to see how many people get screwed by the system and then get stuck inside of it. If you read this book, you will fully be able to understand how criminal defense attorneys should be respected.
John
Excellent look at actual cases where people who have been convicted of serious crimes and then later, sometimes decades later, are exonerated using DNA.

The book examines what led to the wrongful convictions, what factors today continue to lead to wrongful convictions (mainly district attorneys and courts who refuse to acknowledge error) and what steps can and should be taken to prevent wrongful convictions in the future.
Jeff Lacy


Details the vagaries of trials in which the death penalty is sought, organized by type of harm that can derail the reliability of the result: eyewitness misidentification, jailhouse snitch, lying lab technician, poor science applied in the lab, and false confessions. The only saving grace is bodily fluids in a case from which DNA can confirm or exonerate.p
Ayne Ray
A horrifying look at the ineptitude and injustice that often permeates the criminal justice system, this is a sobering account of what happens when things go terribly wrong. With so many prisoners exonerated from death row, one shudders to think of the possible number of wrongful deaths committed by our government and thus, by extension, ourselves.
Phuong
This book reveals astonishing truths and rings an alarming bell to the violations that are actually happening inside the justice system. The authors have done an excellent job in documenting the cases and describing them intriguingly, thus raise people’s awareness of wrongful conviction and make them ponder about the justice system carefully.
Alex
I might be a bit biased, since I had the privilege of working with Barry Scheck and the Innocence Project while in law school, but I think this book has something really important to say. You will be shocked and appalled at our justice system when you read this book, and rightly so.
Monica
Excellent summary of problems within the justice system. The book is written with a clear goal and bias, but after fact-checking some of the stories and names I'm convinced it is accurate, despite the occasional sensational turn of phrase. A quick and interesting read.
Melanie
Again, read it for a class. There were a lot of typos, but I assume those are gone with the new edition. Certainly an eye-opener and goes beyond the hype to the actual cause of all of these wrongful convictions. The authors ask the hard questions about how we can change things.
Shira
Written by lawyers and not writers, so the book isn't written that well. But the stories are remarkable, and this is a must read for anyone who cares about constitutional rights and our democracy but is not familiar with this topic.
Dan W
This eye opening account of the failures of our criminal justice system is at once insightful and horrifying. The presentation style of the book is clear and the book should serve as a wake up call to any supporter of executions.
Jake
I dare anyone to read this book and still believe in the death penalty. Well-written, honest and lacking the proverbial heavy hand. An excellent account of how many times are system has screwed up but still keeps on keeping on.
Greg Fanoe
Features some chilling facts and practical considerations. But, actually, the stories themselves of how the innocent people got put in jail and the process of getting them out are pretty much all really interesting too.
Julie (julie37619)
I loved this book. I read it online at work and was anxious to get to work every day to read it! It goes along with a documentary called After Innoncence that is also about the Innocence Project. Great reading!
Jamie
Aug 21, 2007 Jamie rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: anyone interested in criminal justice and the dealth penalty
I used to be pro-death penalty and in college I waivered a bit. This book absolutely convinced me that in our system, we absolutely cannot have the death penalty and call ourselves just or fair.
Edwin
Good book on some of the problems of the criminal justice system. We need to fix these problems and not have more innocent people locked up for crimes they never did. It's a travesty.
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