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Actual Innocence: When Justice Goes Wrong and How to Make it Right

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  782 ratings  ·  72 reviews
Here are the stories of innocent men and women—and the system that put them away under the guise of justice. Now updated with new information, Actual Innocence sheds light on “a system that tolerates lying prosecutors, slumbering defense attorneys and sloppy investigators” (Salt Lake Tribune)—revealing the shocking flaws that can derail the legal process and the ways that ...more
Paperback, 432 pages
Published December 2nd 2003 by NAL (first published February 5th 2000)
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Jenee Rager
Oct 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Extraordinary book by Barry Scheck detailing the cases of actual persons that were falsely convicted for crimes they did not commit. Cases involving sentences of life and death penalty. Barry Scheck relates the process that he and his team at The Innocence Project use to investigate and exonerate persons wrongfully convicted. He also covers cases where persons were put to death for crimes they did not commit. I highly recommend this book if you have any interest in legal or crime studies. If you ...more
Mar 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, prisons
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
Jan 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
So, obviously this book is written about a subject matter that is pretty important to me. But the great thing about this book, for me, is really that it lays out so many of the causes of wrongful convictions and it's brutally honest about how it's a whole system failure - sometimes it's more one particular cause, but it's everything from junk science and overstating evidence to eyewitness misidentification to biased/poor police investigations and overzealous prosecutors and defense attorneys sle ...more
Jul 30, 2010 rated it really liked it
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.
Lewis Weinstein
Nov 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
The cases Barry Scheck cites will make you ill. Innocent people going to jail or execution because prosecutors hid evidence, or created it.
Cheyenne|Tonkin About Books
As someone who has a passion for true crime and finds the criminal justice system incredibly interesting, I was so excited to read this book. It was compelling, well-written, and served to highlight just how complex our criminal justice system is. I was shocked by some of the injustices talked about in this book and was equally sickened by the way we handled it afterwards. If you're interested in learning more about DNA exonerations and the the science behind how innocent people get thrown in ja ...more
Jessica Henry
Jun 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I love this book - it is an oldie but a goodie that provides a framework for understanding how wrongful convictions happen. It is a page turner that's full of compelling stories about innocent people who are wrongly convicted while exploring the system that failed them. ...more
Dec 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I absolutely love the innocence project which is one reason I really wanted to read this book. I know without a doubt that many people are in prison and on death row who are innocent and convicted based on so many unreliable factors. I wish more had access to DNA evidence and/or other options to have their cases more thoroughly reviewed. The hard-heartedness and lack of caring about taking away years of the lives of innocent people, if not killing them or them dying in prison without ever being ...more
Oct 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Actual Innocence: When Justice Goes Wrong and How to Make it Right is one of the best books I have read in years. This gripping book reads better than most novels and you cannot put it down. On the surface, Actual Innocence: When Justice Goes Wrong and How to Make it Right is about the use of DNA testing to free convicted men from prison and that alone makes it worth the price of admission. Yet, this is so much more than just this small piece. The broader story is how an innocent person is convi ...more
Trey Lathe
Mar 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The authors belong to the "Innocence Project", an organized attempt to determine the innocence or guilt through recently available DNA evidence of those convicted of murder/violent crimes. In over 80 cases the were able to _prove_ the innocence of the wrongly convicted, many on death row.
This book results from that project and outlines in each chapter some of the failures of the justice system in these cases including the unreliability of eyewitnesses, incompentant defense lawyers, poor laws and
Katie Bee
Nov 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018-books-read
A great book. The co-authors talking about themselves in the third person was a little distracting to me at first, but I quickly got used to it. I think the biggest takeaway I had from this book is that most DNA exonerations are over now (they freed innocent people who had been convicted before advanced DNA testing) but there are still so many ways innocent people can be unjustly convicted. Exonerating DNA evidence doesn't exist in every case - for many if not most of the innocent people profile ...more
KayLynn Zollinger
Disclaimer: If you want to continue thinking the United States justice system is fair and just...don't read this book.

I felt this book in my soul. It infuriated me. It started a fire. It's not like I don't know that people are wrongly accused, trials are botched, testimonies scewed, evidence facked, etc, it's just not something that I'm not forced to think about very often. And the truth is painful. And ugly. After reading Actual Innocence (which by the way, is apparently not a real reason for
Kenneth Barber
May 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book follows the development of the Innocence Project and it's efforts to free the innocent wrongfully convicted. Not all are on death row, but all have been in prison for crimes they didn't commit. The biggest development that has helped free innocent people has been the the discovery of DNA. It has been particularly effective in rape cases. The book follows many cases where people have been wrongfully convicted only to be proven innocent. The book shows the fallacies in our system that al ...more
Jessica Faulkner Chase
“The bottom line is we’re making all these God-like decisions without God-like skills. But people don’t want to be bothered by that.” Page 222 says it all. So grateful for the Innocence Project and DNA evidence. Now all I can think about is how many people are currently on death row that are innocent. These stats make it hard to have faith in our legal system - mistaken eyewitnesses were a factor in 84% of wrongful convictions; snitches or informants in 21 percent; false confessions in 24%. Defe ...more
Dec 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
The use of actual cases to define the process of how DNA profiling was developed and utilized especially for exonerations I wrongful conviction cases was very interesting. This book explains the evolution of DNA and ties to four cases which led to exonerations. Worth the time if you follow wrongful conviction cases and how evidence based investigation is applied.
Line Thyrring
Nov 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Chilling, disturbing, horrifying, terrifying reading. A powerful and compelling book that gives an indsigt in the wronfulg convictions. How fatally Wrong things can go I the American criminal Justice system.
Apr 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Super powerful, super sad, super good.
Dennis Littrell
May 11, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: true-crime
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 law, which is the basis of society, is destroyed. Whenever those in the judicial system—prosecutors, police, investigators, judge or jurors—compro
John B.
Feb 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
p. 246

"In 1999, the Innocence Project reconstructed sixty-two cases in the United States of the sixty-seven exonerations in North America to determine what factors had been prevalent in the wrongful convictions. Mistaken eye-witnesses were a factor in 84 percent of the convictions; snitches or informants in 21 percent; false confessions in 24 percent. Defense lawyers fell down on the job in 27 percent; prosecutorial misconduct played a part in 42 percent, and police misconduct in 50 percent. A t
Heidi | Paper Safari Book Blog
Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld, once lawyers with the Bronx Legal Aid Society, co-founded The Innocence Project, which seeks post-conviction release through DNA testing. They are among the most prominent civil rights attorneys in the U.S. Jim Dwyer is the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the New York Daily News and author of several other books.

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 rea
Jeffrey Sheppard
Sep 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
How many are in prison for a crime they didn't commit? I'll counter that with: How many are free after committing a crime and being found not guilty?

This book is a great read for true crime fans. It was published in 2000, ironically the same year Illinois put a moratorium on the death penalty. I had never read anything, especially in true crime, about innocent people being incarcerated other than Old Red in the Shawshank Redemption saying we are all innocent here.

These cases high
Jeff Doucette
Jan 08, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Oct 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
This was an excellent book that I should be required reading for all high school students, (the only way to make sure everyone reads it). One of my biggest pet peeves is the way that our criminal justice system runs, and the idea that most people just accept that it is running fine. I found myself getting angry while reading the examples that the authors supplied; I kept thinking how unfair it is and how ridiculous that having money gives so many people advantages, even with the law. I'm hopeful ...more
Oct 28, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Marcella Freeman
Nov 04, 2016 rated it liked it
Most cases presented herein were examples of misconduct on the plaintiff's side; evidence was fabricated, lost, denied, hid, etc. or a professional simply went with their "gut" feeling despite evidence to the contrary. Sometimes the evidence just didn't exist, and the defense couldn't make the case for reasonable doubt. Sometimes the eyewitness testimony, which is not reliable but is VERY convincing (inflammatory?) to a jury, was simply inaccurate.
However, this was a really fascinating look at e
Jul 19, 2007 rated it liked it
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
Jul 01, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: reviewed
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
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