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

4.1  ·  Rating details ·  605 Ratings  ·  60 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 2000)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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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
Chrisiant
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
...more
Grace
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
Ilze
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.
Dennis Littrell
May 11, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: true-crime
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
john nielsen boyack
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
...more
Heidi Gonzalez
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
...more
Jeffrey Sheppard
Sep 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
QUESTION:
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?

REVIEW:
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
...more
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
...more
Bob
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
Sherri
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
Adam
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
...more
Marcella Scudelia
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
...more
Caitlin
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
...more
Clare
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
Jeremy
Jul 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
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
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
Sarah
Dec 12, 2011 rated it really liked it
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 lea ...more
Richp
Jan 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Despite the fact I was quite familiar with this issue, I still consider this book to have been well worth reading. More than 15 years later, the US criminal justice system has done a little to reform, but only a little. Let us hope Obama's recent announcement leads to significant further reform, but I doubt it will, as in certain categories, such as whistle blower cases, Obama may be the worst President ever.

This book is a series of stories, not a dry legal treatise. I applaud the lawyers for br
...more
Lexi
Dec 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This book was a fantastic read for my Wrongful Convictions grad class. It was very eye-opening to see the different ways that innocent individuals are wrongfully convicted and then exonerated. Each chapter is set up by the different ways that individuals are wrongfully convicted (i.e., false identification, lack of DNA evidence, coerced confessions, etc.). This book did not read like a non-fiction and informative book, but read more like a novel, which I prefer when I am reading non-fiction.
John
Nov 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
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.
Channelle
Feb 20, 2008 rated it really liked it
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.
Koren
Jan 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
A book that really makes you think. We automatically assume that all criminals are guilty and that they all say they are innocent. These are stories about people that the Innocence Project has freed through DNA testing. It is amazing how many people have been falsely accused of crimes. The book goes into depth exploring how memories fade over time or see things differently than what actually happened or how people's insight can change from suggestive comments. Very interesting!
Chris Pederson
Apr 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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?
V.A. Herring-Trice
Love Barry Scheck and love his Innocence Project. He provides insight into how the project cleared the two men from Ada who were unjustly convicted through poor police work, an overzealous prosecutor and a jury ready to convict these men. Love the work Barry does and all he has accomplished and would recommend this book to anyone interested in criminal justice and real life forensics.
Phuong
Dec 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
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.
Jeff Lacy
Nov 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing


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
Oct 28, 2008 rated it really liked it
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.
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