For fans of Law and Order and investigative news programs like 20/20, Case of a Lifetime is a chilling look at what really determines a person's innocence.
Abbe Smith, director of the Criminal Justice Clinic and professor of law at Georgetown Law School, is the recognized expert on legal ethics. She is a regular contributor to The New York Times, Boston Globe, Philadelphia Daily News, National Law Journal, and The Atlantic Monthly. She lives in Washington, D.C.
Why does the American criminal justice system punish too many innocent people, failing to punish so many guilty parties and imposing a disproportionate burden on blacks? This remarkably original and vital work argues that the problems are rooted in a disjunction between prevailing values and the prevailing doctrinal regime in constitutional law. Dripps asserts that the Fourteenth Amendment's more general standards of due process and equal protection encompass the values that ought to govern the criminal process.
Criminal procedure ought to be about protecting the innocent, punishing the guilty, and doing equal justice. Modern legal doctrine, however, hinders these pursuits by concentrating on the specific procedural safeguards contained in the Bill of Rights. Dripps argues that a renewed focus on the Fourteenth Amendment would be more consistent than current law with both our values and with the legitimate sources of Constitutional law, and will promote the instrumental values the criminal process ought to serve. Legal and constitutional scholars will find his account of our criminal system's disarray compelling, and his argument as to how it may be reconstructed important and provoking.
Among the mass public, knowledge and education did not play as prominent a role in shaping opinions as did demographic variables. The survey results indicate that divergent opinions regarding the root causes of crime account for the differences in opinion regarding police methods in apprehending potential defendants. Most surprising, and most significant, is that contrary to reports in the mass media, the mass public is relatively protective of civil liberties. Professor Lock then proposes approaches whereby the courts and the legal profession can work to develop an even more supportive mass public. A study of particular importance to students, scholars, and public policy makers in the areas of constitutional and criminal law and public opinion.
Convicted Yet Innocent: The Legal Times Review
Choice Outstanding Academic Title for 2008
DNA testing and advances in forensic science have shaken the foundations of the U.S. criminal justice system. One of the most visible results is the exoneration of inmates who were wrongly convicted and incarcerated, many of them sentenced to death for crimes they did not commit. This has caused a quandary for many states: how can claims of innocence be properly investigated and how can innocent inmates be reliably distinguished from the guilty? In answer, some states have created “innocence commissions” to establish policies and provide legal assistance to the improperly imprisoned.
The Innocence Commission describes the creation and first years of the Innocence Commission for Virginia (ICVA), the second innocence commission in the nation and the first to conduct a systematic inquiry into all cases of wrongful conviction. Written by Jon B. Gould, the Chair of the ICVA, who is a professor of justice studies and an attorney, the author focuses on twelve wrongful conviction cases to show how and why wrongful convictions occur, what steps legal and state advocates took to investigate the convictions, how these prisoners were ultimately freed, and what lessons can be learned from their experiences.
Gould recounts how a small band of attorneys and other advocates — in Virginia and around the country — have fought wrongful convictions in court, advanced the subject of wrongful convictions in the media, and sought to remedy the issue of wrongful convictions in the political arena. He makes a strong case for the need for Innocence Commissions in every state, showing that not only do Innocence Commissions help to identify weaknesses in the criminal justice system and offer workable improvements, but also protect society by helping to ensure that actual perpetrators are expeditiously identified, arrested, and brought to trial. Everyone has an interest in preventing wrongful convictions, from police officers and prosecutors, who seek the latest and best investigative techniques, to taxpayers, who want an efficient criminal justice system, to suspects who are erroneously pursued and sometimes convicted.
Free of legal jargon and written for a general audience, The Innocence Commission is instructive, informative, and highly compelling reading.