Academic journal article Journal of Information Ethics

Failed Evidence: Why Law Enforcement Resists Science

Academic journal article Journal of Information Ethics

Failed Evidence: Why Law Enforcement Resists Science

Article excerpt

Failed Evidence: Why Law Enforcement Resists Science David A. Harris. New York: NYU Press, 2012. 269 pp. $35

If getting away with murder is the epitome of injustice, then what about the other guy-the person who did not commit a crime but is convicted for it anyway? That person, according to author David A. Harris, is a victim of "failed evidence," a prosecution based on an incomplete and unsubstantiated investigation. Writing from his perspective as a police consultant and professor of criminal law and evidence for more than twenty years, Harris might never have heard the phrase "information ethics" yet his exposition of the lack of science throughout the chronology of criminal prosecution could practically be a manual on the topic: clues are ignored, witnesses are pressured, suspects are lied to... At every stage information is concealed or delivered unethically.

An engaging storyteller with a narrative style, Harris masterfully weaves the history of law enforcement with personal biographies, social science research, and Justice Department data to show how prosecutions go wrong and how to make evidencegathering more accurate.

Writing, for example, of photo arrays and suspect line-ups, Harris indicates what has happened to people mistakenly identified by witnesses, to prosecutors suffering angst for relying on those witnesses, and to the guilt-ridden witnesses themselves. Then, Harris references authoritative research proving that witnesses recall faces more accurately when the photos or live options are presented to them one at a time rather than in a group. …

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