Prosecution Complex: America's Race to Convict, and Its Impact on the Innocent

Prosecution Complex: America's Race to Convict, and Its Impact on the Innocent

Prosecution Complex: America's Race to Convict, and Its Impact on the Innocent

Prosecution Complex: America's Race to Convict, and Its Impact on the Innocent

Excerpt

James Giles served ten years in prison for a vicious rape he did not commit because prosecutors failed to provide the defense with evidence suggesting that a different James Giles was at fault. David Wong endured seventeen years in the penitentiary for a murder he did not commit because prosecutors relied on a dishonest jailhouse informant who received a recommendation for parole in exchange for his testimony against Wong. Bruce Godschalk wasted fifteen years of his life incarcerated for two sexual assaults he did not commit. He spent seven of those years fighting prosecutors just for the chance to subject the biological evidence retrieved from the crime scenes to deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) testing. These three men are not the only criminal defendants who have suffered the horror of wrongful conviction due to choices prosecutors made in their cases. Why does this happen, and how can it be avoided?

I have wrestled with these questions for nearly fifteen years, ever since I accepted a job as a public defender with the Legal Aid Society of New York City. My later work helping inmates pursue post-conviction claims of innocence as assistant director of the Second Look Program at Brooklyn Law School fueled my interest in prosecutorial behavior and its impact on the innocent. Now, as a professor with some distance from the daily rigors of law practice, this book is my attempt to answer these questions.

Prosecutors and Wrongful Convictions

Since 1989 post-conviction DNA testing has exonerated more than 250 prisoners, and at least 300 other inmates with powerful innocence claims have gained their freedom. But there is reason to think that these exonerations are the tip of a much larger innocence iceberg. Biological evidence suitable for DNA testing exists in only 10 to 20 percent of criminal cases; even then, it is often lost, degraded, or destroyed before any attempt to conduct postconviction testing. Without the magic bullet of DNA, prisoners struggle to . . .

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