Yesterday we watched the 2010 film Conviction, based on a true story, with Hilary Swank as Betty Anne Waters and Sam Rockwell as her brother “Kenny” Waters. This called to mind several similar films I’ve recently seen, including The Hurricane (1999), and American Violet (2008). Conviction is an extremely powerful film, so much so I had it fresh on my mind upon awakening. My morning ritual includes reading the paper (the actual paper, not the cyberspace version) and, lo and behold, after scanning the baseball scores (the Dodgers won again!), I landed on an article about a new national database tracking wrongful convictions since 1989. I suppose this falls under the rubric of serendipity or synchronicity. I’ve pasted the entire article below, followed by a list of titles that help us begin to make sense of the disturbing number of (both documented and unknown) wrongful convictions. In other words, these books should enable us to better understand the possible reasons for the incredible number of wrongful convictions in our adversarial criminal justice system.
Los Angeles Times (May 21, 2012)
By David Savage
The national database, said to be the largest of its kind, covers the period since DNA testing came into common use. Its sponsors hope to shed light on the legal system’s failings.
“More than 2,000 people have been freed from prison since 1989 after they were found to have been wrongly convicted of serious crimes, according to a new National Registry of Exonerations compiled by University of Michigan Law School and Northwestern University. Its sponsors say it is by far the largest database of such cases, and they hope it will help reveal why the criminal justice system sometimes misfires, prosecuting and convicting the innocent. ‘The more we learn about false convictions, the better we’ll be at preventing them,’ said Samuel Gross, a University of Michigan law professor.
The registry covers the period since DNA came into common use and revealed, to the surprise of many prosecutors and judges, that a significant number of convicted rapists and murderers were innocent. The Innocence Project in New York says DNA alone has freed 289 prisoners since 1989. Criminal law experts have been studying the growing number of exonerations. Some cases have involved police corruption or witnesses who recanted. Experts have also pointed to faulty eyewitness testimony and lying witnesses as common problems. Beyond that, a surprising number of cases involved suspects who confessed to crimes they didn’t commit. [emphasis added]
‘Nobody had an inkling of the serious problem of false confessions until we had this data,’ said Rob Warden, executive director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University. Under persistent and prolonged questioning by investigators, some suspects confessed to crimes such as rape, even though DNA later revealed they were not the perpetrators.
Among the states, Illinois has the most exonerations listed in the new registry, and among counties, Cook County and Chicago led the way, followed by Dallas and Los Angeles. However, the sponsors of the new registry do not contend that their data permits strong comparisons across counties or states because only about 900 of the cases were examined in detail by jurisdiction. ‘It’s clear that the exonerations we found are the tip of the iceberg,’ Gross said. For example, several counties in California with more than 1 million residents, including San Bernardino and Alameda, listed no exonerations. By contrast, Cook County had 78 and Dallas County 36. ‘Obviously there are false convictions in those [other] counties. We just don’t know about them,’ he said.
The figures are also constantly changing. Last week, shortly after a report on the registry was completed, prosecutors in Lake County, Ill., dropped sexual assault charges against Bennie Starks. He had been convicted of the 1986 rape of an elderly woman and had served 20 years in prison. DNA evidence taken from the victim pointed to a different man. Updating the registry, Warden said Illinois now had 103 exonerations.”
- Abramsky, Sasha (2007) American Furies: Crime, Punishment, and Vengeance in the Age of Mass Imprisonment. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
- Alexander, Michelle (2010) The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. New York: The New Press.
- Allen, Francis A. (1981) The Decline of the Rehabilitative Ideal. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
- Banner, Stuart (2002) The Death Penalty: An American History. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
- Burnett, Cathleen (2002) Justice Denied: Clemency Appeals in Death Penalty Cases. Boston, MA: Northeastern University Press.
- Butler, Paul (2009) Let’s Get Free: A Hip-Hop Theory of Justice. New York: The New Press.
- Cole, David (1999) No Equal Justice: Race and Class in the American Criminal Justice System. New York: The Free Press.
- Cusac, Anne-Marie (2009) Cruel and Unusual Punishment: The Culture of Punishment in America. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
- Davis, Angela J. (2007) Arbitrary Justice: The Power of the American Prosecutor. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Demleitner, Nora, Douglas A. Berman, Marc Miller and Ronald Wright (2007, 2nd ed.) Sentencing Law and Policy: Cases, Statutes and Guidelines. New York: Aspen Publ.
- Dow, David R. (2005) Executed on a Technicality: Lethal Injustice on America’s Death Row. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
- Dubber, Markus Dirk (2006) The Sense of Justice: Empathy in Law and Punishment. New York: New York University Press.
- Forst, Brian (2004) Errors of Justice: Nature, Sources and Remedies. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
- Friedman, Lawrence M. (1993) Crime and Punishment in American History. New York: Basic Books.
- Garland, David (2001) The Culture of Control: Crime and Social Order in Contemporary Society. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
- Garrett, Brandon L. (2011) Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
- Harcourt, Bernard E. (2011) The Illusion of Free Markets: Punishment and the Myth of Natural Order. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
- Huff, C. Ronald, Arye Rattner, and Edward Sagarin (1996) Convicted But Innocent: Wrongful Conviction and Public Policy. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
- Irwin, John (2004) The Warehouse Prison: Disposal of the New Dangerous Class. Los Angeles, CA: Roxbury Publ.
- Kennedy, Randall (1997) Race, Crime, and the Law. New York: Pantheon Books.
- King, Gilbert (2008) The Execution of Willie Francis: Race, Murder, and the Search for Justice in the American South. New York: Basic Civitas.
- Lawless, Joseph F. (3rd ed., 2003) Prosecutorial Misconduct. Charlottesville, VA: LexisNexis.
- Marquart, James W. (1994) The Rope, the Chair, and the Needle: Capital Punishment in Texas, 1923-1990. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.
- Mauer, Marc (2nd ed., 2006) Race to Incarcerate. New York: The Free Press.
- Medwed, Daniel S. (2012) Prosecution Complex: America’s Race to Convict and Its Impact on the Innocent. New York: New York University Press.
- Mello, Michael A. (1997) Dead Wrong: A Death Row Lawyer Speaks Out Against Capital Punishment. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.
- Mello, Michael (2001) The Wrong Man: A True Story of Innocence on Death Row. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
- Messerschmidt, Jim (1983) The Trial of Leonard Peltier. Boston, MA: South End Press.
- Miller, Jerome G. (1997) Search and Destroy: African-American Males in the Criminal Justice System. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
- Ogletree, Charles J., Jr. and Austin Sarat, eds. (2006) From Lynch Mobs to the Killing State: Race and the Death Penalty in America. New York: New York University Press.
- Prejean, Sister Helen (1993) Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States. New York: Random House.
- Reiman, Jeffrey (2005, 7th ed.) The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison: Ideology, Class and Criminal Justice. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
- Rhode, Deborah L. Access to Justice (2004) New York: Oxford University Press.
- Rhodes, Lorna A. (2004) Total Confinement: Madness and Reason in the Maximum Security Prison. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
- Russell, Katheryn K. (1999) The Color of Crime: Racial Hoaxes, White Fear…. New York: New York University Press.
- Saks, Elyn R. (2002) Refusing Care: Forced Treatment and the Rights of the Mentally Ill. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
- Sarat, Austin (2001) When the State Kills: Capital Punishment and the American Condition. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
- Sarat, Austin, ed. (1999) The Killing State: Capital Punishment in Law, Politics, and Culture. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Simon, Jonathan (2007) Governing Through Crime: How the War on Crime Transformed American Democracy and Created a Culture of Fear. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
- Stuntz, William J. (2011) The Collapse of American Criminal Justice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
- Temple, John (2009) The Last Lawyer: The Fight to Save Death Row Inmates. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi.
- Tonry, Michael (1996) Malign Neglect: Race, Crime and Punishment in America. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Turow, Scott (2003) Ultimate Punishment: A Lawyer’s Reflections on Dealing with the Death Penalty. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.
- Wacquant, Loïc (2009, English ed.) Punishing the Poor: The Neoliberal Government of Social Insecurity. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
- Welsh-Huggins, Andrew (2009) No Winners Here Tonight: Race, Politics, and Geography in One of the Country’s Busiest Death Penalty States. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press.
- Western, Bruce (2006) Punishment and Inequality in America. New York: Russell Sage Foundation Publ.
- White, Welsh S. (2005) Litigating in the Shadow of Death: Defense Attorneys in Capital Cases. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
- Zimring, Franklin E. (2003) The Contradictions of American Capital Punishment. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Zimring, Franklin E. (2005) American Juvenile Justice. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Zimring, Franklin E. and Gordon Hawkins (1997) Crime is Not the Problem: Lethal Violence in America. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Zimring, Franklin E. and Gordon Hawkins (1986) Capital Punishment and the American Agenda. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
- Zimring, Franklin E. and Gordon Hawkins (1997) Incapacitation: Penal Confinement and the Restraint of Crime. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Zimring, Franklin E. and Bernard E. Harcourt, eds. (2007) Criminal Law and the Regulation of Vice. New York: Thompson West.
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