"Actual Innocence" by Barry Scheck, Peter Neufeld, and Jim Dwyer is an extraordinarily powerful story of ordinary people incarcerated for crimes they did not commit. Most believe something like this could never happen to us, but unfortunately it has happened to many. In this country, the United States of America, the government claims all people are "innocent till proven guilty." This book explains that the criminal justice system frees prisoners who are later proven innocent, but only after a lengthy legal process. Even after years of imprisonment, many trial judges state that "actual innocence" is not grounds for release from prison!" .
The preface begins with the horrifying case of Dennis Fritz being arrested, convicted and spending eleven years in prison for a rape he did not commit. It is proven through DNA tests that sixty-seven people were sent to prison and death row for crimes they did not commit. It also states that many local prosecutors argue that as a convict, one might hope to prove his innocence, but he has no absolute right to do so after a trial (Scheck, Neufeld, & Dwyer, 18).
In Chapter One, the case of Marion Coakley is discussed. He was sentenced to fifteen years for a rape that he did not commit. It briefly describes his background, the case, and trial in which he was convicted. He was slightly mentally retarded and was mistaken to be the rapist, identified by an eyewitness.
Chapter two speaks of an invention called PCR. It is referred to as the "DNA fingerprint test (pg.36)." This discovery could be used in criminal investigations to prove the guilty criminal. It explains how before PCR, the most sophisticated way to identify a suspect was by blood typing. Unfortunately this technique did not work for Marion Coakley due to the fact that bacteria had eaten away at the DNA, which is a much smaller molecule than blood.
Chapter three discusses the fact that eyewitnesses, especially those under stress are notoriously inaccurate.