If you love to read about Forensic Sciences then this book by M. Chris Fabricant should be on your list.
A variety of junk sciences are discussed and how they are slowly weeded out.
The essence of Fabricant’s book is this: Can scientific evidence overturn legal precedent?
It seemed insurmountable at one point and once the ball got rolling, it did not roll nearly as fast as we wished. But, despite the slow pace we know it cannot be stopped.
There is a lot of critique online about this book. Too hard to read, about a third too long, and many complain about getting lost in the details, etc. I get it. I too found myself flipping back and rereading passages.
From the reader’s perspective it is easy to get lost in the book. The table of contents seem to split up the book in four major parts. The first three appear to be dedicated to a case per chapter and the fourth part seems to be the accumulation and summation of it all. But it isn’t.
The book reflects Fabricant’s fight to get wrongfully convicted people their day in court. It reflects how he learned about junk science, per case and per meeting, which cases featured at the time period that he describes, what the real science is, how the junk must be debunked in court, and how they made their case strategy. We travel along on this journey. With the author, we go to many meetings, explore cases, and go to court. In other words, the book lets the reader watch over Fabricant’s shoulder how he and his colleagues map their fighting for justice.
This set-up is confusing however, the passion with which Fabricant describes this journey makes up for it. We read about the debunking process through Fabricant’s eyes. The many meeting descriptions clearly reflect his frustration with the process. However, they also show the battle these lawyers fight and the people who want to hold on to the fraudulent way in which they hold on to power.
I think that part of the general confusion could have been avoided by adding a cross-referenced index, a timeline of the three major cases, and a listing of all the cases discussed in the book.
Fabricant does not point the reader to the Innocence Project‘s website, the Cardozo School of Law, or the online presence of the three major cases discussed. The book does have an epilogue, copious notes in the back, and eight pages with colour pictures. They include crime scene photography and “marks on skin” so heads-up.
This book may not be easy to read however, it is worth your effort. We learn a lot about the Frye versus Daubert standard, how mass incarceration was not matched with more funding for public defenders, the role of Nancy Grace in the Weldon Carr case (page 121 onwards) and how evidence of Willingham’s innocence was available before his execution, but then-Governor Rick Perry just did not care. Dr. Itiel Dror discusses cognitive bias in criminal justice and how subjectivity influences your information intake. That part is particularly valid today. In short, this book shows you all the threats to the legitimacy of the justice system.
Highly recommended reading. My other book reviews are here.