Choice Outstanding Academic Title for 2008
DNA testing and advances in forensic science have shaken the foundations of the U.S. criminal justice system. One of the most visible results is the exoneration of inmates who were wrongly convicted and incarcerated, many of them sentenced to death for crimes they did not commit. This has caused a quandary for many states: how can claims of innocence be properly investigated and how can innocent inmates be reliably distinguished from the guilty? In answer, some states have created “innocence commissions” to establish policies and provide legal assistance to the improperly imprisoned.
The Innocence Commission describes the creation and first years of the Innocence Commission for Virginia (ICVA), the second innocence commission in the nation and the first to conduct a systematic inquiry into all cases of wrongful conviction. Written by Jon B. Gould, the Chair of the ICVA, who is a professor of justice studies and an attorney, the author focuses on twelve wrongful conviction cases to show how and why wrongful convictions occur, what steps legal and state advocates took to investigate the convictions, how these prisoners were ultimately freed, and what lessons can be learned from their experiences.
Gould recounts how a small band of attorneys and other advocates — in Virginia and around the country — have fought wrongful convictions in court, advanced the subject of wrongful convictions in the media, and sought to remedy the issue of wrongful convictions in the political arena. He makes a strong case for the need for Innocence Commissions in every state, showing that not only do Innocence Commissions help to identify weaknesses in the criminal justice system and offer workable improvements, but also protect society by helping to ensure that actual perpetrators are expeditiously identified, arrested, and brought to trial. Everyone has an interest in preventing wrongful convictions, from police officers and prosecutors, who seek the latest and best investigative techniques, to taxpayers, who want an efficient criminal justice system, to suspects who are erroneously pursued and sometimes convicted.
Free of legal jargon and written for a general audience, The Innocence Commission is instructive, informative, and highly compelling reading.
“The lessons learned in creating the ICVA are valuable to policymakers, activists, and lawyers on both sides of the docket.”
-Law and Politics Book Review
“The book is extremely well written and should serve not only to motivate people to want reform but also to instruct them on how to proceed in the direction of reform. Highly recommended.”
&8220;A masterpiece of the genre. . . . Few other books about wrongful conviction phenomenon have even attempted such a combination of legal theory and details from real-life wrongful conviction cases. . . . Gould’s book has spawned a number of new thoughts about wrongful convictions.”
“Gould . . . has produced a book that will ensure that the lessons from these wrongful convictions are available for study and, we hope, remembered and used to enact needed reforms…this book is a valuable addition to what we are learning about wrongful convictions.”
-The Kojo Nnamdi Show, WAMU-FM
“A thoughtful and disturbing account of his founding in 2003 of the Innocence Commission for Virginia (ICVA) to investigate wrongful convictions. . . . Written for the general public, Gould’s book has important lessons for attorneys and policymakers as well.”
“A welcome addition to the literature on the incarceration of people who never committed the crime for which they were charged.”
“The Innocence Commission adds to the scholarship in the area of wrongful convictions in several important ways and with riveting case descriptions.”-Daniel S. Medwed,University of Utah, S.J. Quinney College of Law
“Discusses how reformers might capitalize on the so-called “innocence issue” of advance criminal justice reforms designed to safeguard against conviction of the innocent.”
-Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology