IPT Book Reviews

Title: Presumed Guilty: When Innocent People Are Wrongly Convicted  Positive Review Positive Review
Author: Martin Yant
Publisher: Prometheus Books, 1992

Prometheus Books
700 E. Amherst
Buffalo, NY 14215
(800) 421-0351
$23.95
 

Description:

This 231-page book provides a chilling account of innocent persons convicted of crimes in the United States.  The author, a journalist, reviewed 150 criminal trials over the years where people were wrongly convicted, including some in which the defendant was executed before his innocence was established.  Several well-known cases, from both the past and present, are included as examples.  The author categorizes the factors leading to the wrongful convictions as follows: the cognitive biases of police investigators; unreliable scientific evidence such as the polygraph, hypnosis, and poor lab work; coerced false confessions; inaccurate eyewitness identification, false accusations, and perjured testimony; prosecutorial misconduct; and incompetent defense attorneys.  The author also makes recommendations for improving the system.
 

Discussion:

The book, which is intended for a lay audience, is highly readable and will hold the attention of both lay and professional readers, although it may anger many of its readers.  It is relevant and useful to those who deal with allegations of child abuse.  The sections on false confessions obtained by both physical and psychological means, the discussion of eyewitness testimony and false sexual abuse accusations, and the description of the type of cognitive and decision errors made by investigators were particularly good.

The book stands as an indictment of our justice system and suggested to me that the loss of our civil liberties may be the most serious casualty of the current hysteria over child abuse.  However, despite the chilling examples, the book ends on a helpful note with several recommendations for reform including giving judges a more active role, restricting voir dire, selecting jurors with expertise, letting jurors ask limited questions, restricting plea bargaining under pressure, disciplining court officials who err, appointing a "court of last resort" after the Supreme Court, and establishing a false conviction fund in each state.

This book should be read not only by those in the defense field, but by all prosecutors as well.

Reviewed by LeRoy Schultz, Professor of Social Work, West Virginia University.

Order this book: Hardcover

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