||Presumed Guilty: When Innocent People Are Wrongly
||Prometheus Books, © 1992
700 E. Amherst
Buffalo, NY 14215
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.
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.