Surviving Justice

Lola Vollen and Dave Eggers, eds., Surviving Justice: America’s Wrongfully Convicted and Exonereated (San Francisco: McSweeney’s, 2008).

Eggers - Surviving Justice
This is another of the McSweeney’s “Voice of Witness” books. I think that reading them is a good way to understand a part of our culture that I might not otherwise think about. I guess that any person who is wrongfully convicted and given a sentence is a commentary on the failings of our human attempts at justice. The fact that the editors of the book had no trouble finding 13 persons, male and female, black, white and hispanic, from impoverished and privileged backgrounds is chilling. I found myself thinking that this could happen to anyone.

Wrongful conviction is not a random occurrence. It is caused by failures in the judicial system that can be addressed and corrected. Deceptive interrogation tactics, tricking suspects into waiving Miranda rights (often by claiming that they are not suspects), administering polygraphs when the person is extremely tired or stressed, forcing false confessions, harsh interview tactics, police torture, eyewitness misidentification, ineffective legal counsel, prosecutorial misconduct, perjured testimony (often in exchange for reduced sentences or cash from prosecutors), bad scientific evidence, loss (intentional or inadvertent) of DNA evidence, and lack of retrospective review all contribute to innocent people being convicted of crimes, sentenced to death or life imprisonment and more. In most cases, when innocence is finally proved irreparable damage has already occurred.

In addition to the injustice of wrongful conviction, each constitutes mis-managed or lost evidence that could have gone toward solving the crime. Each wrongful conviction is a failure to convict the real criminal. Each wrongfully convicted person means that there is at least one criminal who has escaped justice.

This is an important book. I hope it is starting a conversation within our society that will continue.