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On January 20, 1984, Earl Washington—defended for all of forty minutes by a lawyer who had never tried a death penalty case—was found guilty of rape and murder in the state of Virginia and sentenced to death. After nine years on death row, DNA testing cast doubt on his conviction and saved his life. However, he spent another eight years in prison before more sophisticated DNA technology proved his innocence and convicted the guilty man.
DNA exonerations have shattered confidence in the criminal justice system by exposing how often we have convicted the innocent and let the guilty walk free. In this unsettling in-depth analysis, Brandon Garrett examines what went wrong in the cases of the first 250 wrongfully convicted people to be exonerated by DNA testing.
Based on trial transcripts, Garrett’s investigation into the causes of wrongful convictions reveals larger patterns of incompetence, abuse, and error. Evidence corrupted by suggestive eyewitness procedures, coercive interrogations, unsound and unreliable forensics, shoddy investigative practices, cognitive bias, and poor lawyering illustrates the weaknesses built into our current criminal justice system. Garrett proposes practical reforms that rely more on documented, recorded, and audited evidence, and less on fallible human memory.
Very few crimes committed in the United States involve biological evidence that can be tested using DNA. How many unjust convictions are there that we will never discover? Convicting the Innocent makes a powerful case for systemic reforms to improve the accuracy of all criminal cases.
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Table of Contents
1 Introduction 1
2 Contaminated Confessions 14
3 Eyewitness Misidentifications 45
4 Flawed Forensics 84
5 Trial by Liar 118
6 Innocence on Trial 145
7 Judging Innocence 178
8 Exoneration 213
9 Reforming the Criminal Justice System 241
What People are Saying About This
How can we stop sending innocent people to our prisons? As you turn the pages of this important and startling book, you will come to realize that wrongful convictions are not accidents. They are the tragic result of a criminal justice system in deep need of reform.
Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking
This is an invaluable book, a comprehensive, highly readable but well-researched work examining the hows and whys of the law's ultimate nightmare--convicting the innocent.
Scott Turow, author of Innocent
It's common to say that DNA exonerations of innocent defendants provide a unique window on the weaknesses in our system of criminal investigation and trial. But what exactly do we see when we look through that window? Until now the answer has been pretty sketchy. Brandon Garrett has produced a far more detailed and complete picture of the lessons of DNA exonerations than anything else to date. This is an indispensable book for anyone wanting to understand or improve American criminal justice.
Samuel R. Gross, Thomas and Mabel Long Professor of Law, University of Michigan
DNA testing is revolutionizing our system of criminal justice: this book shows why. By digging deep into the case files of exonerees, Brandon Garrett uncovers what went wrong in those cases and probably in many more we simply can't know about. Garrett makes a powerful case for how to improve criminal justice so that we dramatically reduce the number of wrongly convicted.
Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld, The Innocence Project
For six years now I have worked diligently within the innocence movement, and I often hear the question: 'How do wrongful convictions happen?' Convicting the Innocent gives all the answers. It is a fascinating study of what goes wrong, and it clearly shows that virtually all wrongful convictions could have been avoided.