The Innocence Commission: Preventing Wrongful Convictions and Restoring the Criminal Justice System

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Beyond Exonerating the Innocent: Author on WAMU Radio

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.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“The book is extremely well written and should serve not only to motivate people to want reform but also to instruct them on how to proceed in the direction of reform. Highly recommended.”

The Innocence Commission adds to the scholarship in the area of wrongful convictions in several important ways and with riveting case descriptions.”

-Daniel S. Medwed,University of Utah, S.J. Quinney College of Law

Library Journal

Gould (Dept. of Administration of Justice, George Mason Univ.; Speak No Evil: The Triumph of Hate Speech Regulation) has written a thoughtful and disturbing account of his founding in 2003 of the Innocence Commission for Virginia (ICVA) to investigate wrongful convictions. While DNA testing has brought attention to the issue of justice-system errors, Gould shows many legal issues, regarding mistaken identification, that still remain, including suggestive identification procedures by police, failure to obtain forensic evidence, and prosecutors' failure to provide information to the defense. After describing the history of innocence investigations, Gould calmly dissects 11 cases from the ICVA files to illustrate some tragic errors in the criminal justice system. The book benefits from the use of trial testimony and detailed case descriptions, and the section on federal and state procedures for requesting post-conviction relief, model police identification procedures, and recommendations for prosecutors is especially useful. Though similar, Barry Scheck, Peter Neufeld, and Jim Dwyer's Actual Innocence: Five Days to Execution, and Other Dispatches from the Wrongly Convictedtakes a more sensational approach and concentrates on the use of DNA evidence. Written for the general public, Gould's book has important lessons for attorneys and policymakers as well. Recommended for all collections.
—Harry Charles

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814732267
  • Publisher: New York University Press
  • Publication date: 8/1/2012
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 364
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Jon B. Gould is Associate Professor in the Department of Administration of Justice at George Mason University, where he also teaches in the School of Law. He is a former U.S. Supreme Court Fellow and is the chair of the Innocence Commission for Virginia, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization helping prevent wrongful convictions in Virginia. He is the author of Speak No Evil: The Triumph of Hate Speech Regulation.

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Table of Contents

1 History and Background
2 The Innocence Commission for Virginia
3 The Cases
4 An Unmet Obligation
5 Putting It All Together
About the Author

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