I have a long interest in the criminal justice system. It began with my opposition to the death penalty. That research made me curious about police interrogations, false confessions, inequities in the criminal justice system, and related problems. Here are four books I beg my friends to read.
Lawrence Wright: Remembering Satan: A Tragic Case of Recovered Memory
- This book is 22 years old and is criminally neglected, no pun intended. True story of an allegation of a massive satanic abuse cult in the northwestern USA. To this day, the book describes the most astounding case of false confessions I’ve ever heard about, even knowing about the Central Park 5. In spite of 22 years of begging people to read it, I can’t get the damn thing arrested.
- Lawyer Scott Turow, best known for excellent crime fiction (Presumed Innocent, etc.), was asked to serve on a commission in Illinois on the death penalty. Its conclusions led the Governor of Illinois to commute all death sentences. Turow says he went into the experience with no strong opinion on the death penalty but came out on the other end as an abolitionist. (This is what happens, by the way, to anyone who actually studies the death penalty and who has a half-way open mind.) When I get into an argument on the death penalty, I offer to give the person a copy of the book. I tell them that if they read it and it doesn’t change their minds, I’ll buy them a steak dinner. I’ve yet to buy a steak dinner, but mostly because I CAN’T GET ANYBODY TO READ IT. Notice a pattern forming here?
Bryan Stevenson: Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption
- Full disclosure. Bryan Stevenson is a hero of mine. We’re both on a board of advisors of an anti-death penalty group in Alabama. But it never meets in the same room and he has no idea who I am. He gave a famous Ted Talk and runs the Equal Justice Initiative. This beautiful book made me sputtering mad, familiar as I already was with some of the cases outlined in the book. I shook Mr. Stephenson’s hand at a book-signing and told him the book had made me so furious that I threw my Kindle. I told him that’s how angry white liberals show their anger. He laughed heartily, which made my month, on account of my mancrush on Bryan Stevenson. This one is a best-seller and a movie version is announced but I fear it might be in development hell.
Finally, the most recent read:
James Duane: You Have the Right to Remain Innocent
- Short, but essential read by a former criminal defense attorney and now a law professor. He is known for a YouTube video in which he explains why you should never, ever talk to the police. Never, ever. He makes the case that suspects, guilty AND INNOCENT, get themselves in terrible trouble by waiving their Constitutional right to remain silent. Here’s what he says you should say to police who want to talk to you: Tell them your name. Tell them what you are doing right now (“I’m just out walking the dog, Sir.”). And tell them “I want a lawyer.” NOTHING else. You don’t believe this is good advice. That’s because you haven’t read the book. It’s a short read that will engage the mind of a Ph.D. or a smart 7th grader, which is really hard to do. Not only can this book keep innocent people out of jail, but it also will give the reader horrifying insights into how the criminal and prosecutorial systems abuse the things that are said during interviews with police, interviews that are fundamentally based on trickery.