The Plea of Innocence: Restoring Truth to the American Justice System

New York Univ. Oct. 2022. 256p. ISBN 9781479817122. $30. LAW
Would a search for the truth fix the criminal justice system? That is the view of legal scholar Bakken (law, West Point; The Cost of Loyalty: Dishonesty, Hubris, and Failure in the U.S. Military). The author decries the adversarial system of American justice because it is rife with errors and tilts toward those with resources. DNA evidence, which is relatively scarce, isn’t the answer. Instead, he favors a plea of innocence, after which the prosecution and defense would cooperate to find exonerating evidence. This would include a requirement that the defendant openly discuss the case. A defendant would have to make a plausible claim to such a plea. The book cites the approach of continental Europe, in which a magistrate makes an impartial review of whether a case should proceed. Some of the same points are made in Judge Jed Rakoff’s Why the Innocent Plead Guilty and the Guilty Go Free, a more accessible introduction to this topic. Left unsaid in the book is whether better training for police or more levels of review of proposed prosecutions would reduce false convictions.
VERDICT The slim book is well written, but academic in tone. Professional audiences will appreciate this deep dive into the theory of criminal prosecutions.
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