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Inside Wrongful Conviction Cases

Scott Christianson

Publication Year: 2004

Innocent graphically documents forty-two recent criminal cases to find evidence of shocking miscarriages of justice, especially in murder cases. Based upon interviews with more than 200 people and reviews of hundreds internal case files, court records, smoking-gun memoranda, and other documents, Scott Christianson gets inside the legal cases, revealing the mistakes, abuses, and underlying factors that led to miscarriages of justice, while also describing how determined prisoners, post-conviction attorneys, advocates, and journalists struggle against tremendous odds to try to win their exonerations.

The result is a powerful work that recounts the human costs of a criminal justice system gone awry, and shows us how wrongful convictions can—and do—happen everywhere.

Published by: NYU Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-xii

I am grateful to numerous individuals who spoke with me, on or off the record, about this topic. Special thanks are due to those described in these stories. Two legal organizations in particular provided special assistance. From the New York Defenders Association, which supported the research, the following persons were especially helpful: Jonathan E....

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pp. 1-16

Some hard-liners deny that anyone ever gets wrongly convicted. Those in prison, they say, must be guilty of something—otherwise they wouldn’t be imprisoned. As they see it, reversals, vacations, or dismissals don’t necessarily prove that the defendant was really innocent—just that he somehow “got off.” Only the guilty get legally executed; a prisoner freed...

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1. Presumed Guilty

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pp. 17-26

Voltaire said, “It is better to risk saving a guilty person than to condemn an innocent one”; and Blackstone wrote, “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than one innocent suffer.” Many Americans naturally assume that accused persons are considered innocent until proven guilty, that our adversarial legal system protects the innocent, and that any rare...

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2. Mistaken Identifcation

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pp. 27-66

For more than seventy years, studies of wrongful conviction have ascribed one of the leading causes to mistaken witness identification. In his pioneering outline of sixty-five instances where the person convicted was “completely innocent” of the crime, Borchard (1932) found it to be a contributing factor in more than half the cases. Based on a national...

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3. Eyewitness Perjury

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pp. 67-92

Things are often not as they seem. Sometimes the key eyewitness is intentionally lying—to protect himself/herself or someone else, or for some other purpose. This is another reason that eyewitness testimony must be carefully scrutinized before it is used as criminal evidence....

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4. Ineffective Counsel

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pp. 93-100

Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruling of Gideon v. Wainwright (1963), New York and other states have been constitutionally required to provide counsel to all eligible persons in criminal proceedings. County Law Article 18-B mandates that each county allocate funds for the assignment of counsel to all indigent criminal defendants....

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5. False

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pp. 101-122

A confession is considered one of the strongest forms of evidence of guilt in criminal law—so much so that it can dominate everything else presented at trial. For that reason, police and prosecutors have always done everything they can to get the suspect to admit his guilt. For decades, police officers in New York and throughout the...

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6. Police Misconduct

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pp. 123-130

Sloppy, lazy, or fabricated police work is a common ingredient in wrongful convictions, but it seldom figures as a stated cause of reversals. That is because shoddy police investigation is neither a reversible error nor a harm that can be remedied by a tort or civil rights lawsuit. The law doesn’t require the police to pursue every possible lead or piece of evidence...

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7. Fabrication

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pp. 131-142

There have been cases in which police have been found to have planted guns, supplied drugs, manufactured fingerprints, doctored reports, and engaged in other evidence fabrication practices. In most of them, even where the officers have admitted such actions, they have tried to claim that their targets were “really guilty” or “bad guys.” Occasionally, episodes...

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8. Prosecutorial Misconduct

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pp. 143-154

Prosecutors enjoy the power to make potential life or death decisions, and to ruin or preserve careers. Most of this decision making takes place behind closed doors and without outside scrutiny. The main way they are held accountable is through the electoral process, and most DAs are easily reelected. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a prosecutor is entitled...

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9. Forensics

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pp. 155-166

For more than a century, progressively newer forensic investigation techniques have given law enforcement more powerful scientific tools to solve crimes. Proponents of fingerprinting, ballistics, microscopic hair and fiber comparison, polygraphy, forensic dentistry, serology inclusion, and, most recently, DNA all have offered almost magical new methods...

10. Selected Wrongful Conviction Cases

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pp. 167-186


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pp. 187-190

Selected References

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pp. 191-193


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pp. 194-195

About the Author

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p. 196-196

E-ISBN-13: 9780814790212
E-ISBN-10: 0814790216
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814716342
Print-ISBN-10: 0814716342

Page Count: 208
Publication Year: 2004

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Judicial error -- United States -- Cases.
  • Prosecutorial misconduct -- United States.
  • Criminal justice, Administration of -- United States -- Cases.
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