Monday 19 October 2015

This is the "Cream of the Crop" book on Criminal Injustice


It’s not too often I use the word “brilliant” in writing a book review, but in the case of “Unfair” I have to say that it is nothing short of that description … brilliant.  There are any numbers of books available on the subjects of false confessions, wrongful convictions and the flaws in both police practices and the court system.  I have read several and, in my opinion, “Unfair” is the cream of the crop.  If you read only one book on the subject this should be the book you choose. 

In the introduction Professor Benforado takes the reader back to the year 1114 to the trial of Clement and Evrard, two peasants accused of heresy.  When they got to trial their accusers failed to make an appearance so acting judge Abbot Guibert faced the dilemma that still occurs in all systems of justice – “a strong suspicion of guilt without solid evidence”.  In the 12th century this was easily solved with a vat of water – the sink or swim decision-making process – “Murders, adulterers, and heretics would float; innocents would be enveloped”.  Obvious to readers living in the 21st century, there is no justice in this system, but is our current system of justice any more foolproof?  One of the most powerful statements Professor Benforado makes in his introduction is “… even if our system operated exactly as it was designed to, we would still end up with wrongful convictions, biased proceedings, trampled rights, and unequal treatment”.  He backs this statement up with “psychology and neuroscience to expose the hidden dynamics undermining our criminal justice system”.  He discusses police procedure, the flaw in administering the Miranda warning, the Reid technique of interrogation, how personal experience cannot help but prejudice judges and juries, the errors allowed in the jury selection process and even the use of “experts for hire” in the courtroom.

Yes, he also cites cases as examples, including the West Memphis Three, The Central Park Jogger, Rodney King and more recently the Trayvon Martin case, but he does not dwell on individual errors made but rather discusses the reforms that could be made to the criminal justice system to prevent errors and misjudgment in the future.

While this book is very well researched and fact filled, using his personal experiments and research as well as explaining the research of others, it is an extremely readable book.  Not “text book” like in the least, with some interesting comparisons of our judicial system to that of the role of umpires and referees in professional sports.  He also included an unexpected section about the unusual practice, in ages past, of putting animals on trial using it to explain how we are influenced in regard to placing blame for the commission of a crime.  As humans, we have a need to punish evil deeds.  As Professor Benforado points out this need is so strong that, “Occasionally we even the feel the urge to punish inanimate objects.  Be honest: Have you ever wanted to get back at your computer for losing a file or freezing up at a key moment?  Have you kicked the chair that stubbed your toe?”

Another segment I found eye opening was his discussion on body language.  Surprisingly everything I have ever heard or learned about reading body language to determine a lie versus the truth is wrong and in the shifty eye/agitated movement department – quite the opposite holds true.  And, if for some reason you need information on how to beat a lie detector test that’s in this book as well.  Even with the use of real time film becoming more and more commonplace, no system of determining fact from falsehood is foolproof.

Aside from all the points I’ve mentioned above (as well as so much more included in this book) what makes this book so different from all the others out there on the same subject?  Professor Benforado actually offers some concrete solutions to some of the problems afflicting our current system of justice.  Some, yes, are common sense but his theory on “virtual trials” involving avatars to eliminate prejudice based on race, names and the attractiveness (or not) of both witnesses and lawyers as well as the accused is quite radical.

Professor Benforado has written an important book and I have no hesitation at all in giving it 5 stars.

*I received this ebook at no charge from Crown Publishing
via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review *

ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from  Drexel University Website)

Adam Benforado’s principal interest is in applying insights from the mind sciences — most notably cognitive psychology — to law and legal theory. He is particularly focused on issues arising in criminal law, corporate law and contract law.

Conducting novel experiments and developing existing findings, Professor Benforado’s research is focused on uncovering how our legal system may reflect unappreciated aspects of our cognitive frameworks and processes, and, as a consequence, how the law may fail to align with our purported values and fall short of meeting society’s needs.
Professor Benforado received his JD from Harvard Law School and was a Frank Knox Fellow and Visiting Scholar with the Cambridge University Faculty of Law. He clerked for Judge Judith Rogers on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Professor Benforado also worked at Jenner & Block, LLP in Washington, D.C., where he handled trial and appellate litigation matters.

His book "Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice" was published by Crown in 2015.  His recent scholarly work includes three chapters in "Ideology, Psychology, and Law" published by the Oxford University Press, four articles in the Emory Law Journal, and articles in the Maryland Law Review, Indiana Law Journal, Cardozo Law Review, Oregon Law Review, Florida State University Law Review, St. Louis University Law Journal, Entrepreneurial Business Law Journal, Topics in Cognitive Science, and Cognitive Science.

Professor Benforado's op-eds, essays and letters have appeared in a variety of publications including the Washington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, New York Times, Providence Journal, Baltimore Sun, Houston Chronicle, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Legal Times and Boston Review.

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