Shedding light on no-crime convictions and racial inequity
Nearly one-third of all known exonerations involve crimes that were later found to have never occurred: police plant evidence, eyewitnesses and informants lie outright, and forensic experts mislabel non-criminal events (suicide or accidental fire) as crimes (homicide or arson). Hundreds, if not thousands, of people spend time in prison every day for fictional crimes.
In her new book, "Smoke But No Fire: Convicting the Innocent of Crimes that Never Happened" former New York City public defender Jessica S. Henry provides the first full account of this common but previously undocumented wrongful conviction: no-crime convictions. Further, Henry examines the scope, frequency, significance, types, and causes of no-crime convictions, while also offering practical solutions to reduce their prevalence.
Using compelling case studies that go back as far as the Salem Witch trials and continue through the present day, Henry takes us on a brisk walk through the United States’ legal system. Along the way, she details the downward spiral that occurs once an event is mislabeled a crime, and shares the stories of innocent people whose lives have been destroyed after a wrongful conviction.
In ways that are more relevant now than ever before, Henry examines how low-income people and people of color are often the targets of police misconduct, the impact of aggressive policing practices on communities of color, and the role of race in no-crime wrongful convictions. She discusses the role of cognitive bias in the criminal justice system and its impact on the police, prosecutors, and judges, all the while raising the alarm that innocent people are far too often ensnared in the net of injustice.
"Smoke But No Fire: Convicting the Innocent of Crimes that Never Happened" is an important, timely, and devastating book that sheds light on a deeply flawed criminal justice system that allows—even encourages—these no-crime convictions to regularly occur. But Henry also proposes ways to “clear the smoke” and reduce the number of wrongful convictions with several suggestions for reform, including reforming the use of forensic science, reforming the plea process, and the much-discussed call for police reform.
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ABOUT JESSICA S. HENRY
Jessica S. Henry is the author of "Smoke But No Fire: Convicting the Innocent of Crimes that Never Happened." She was a public defender for nearly ten years in New York City before joining the Department of Justice Studies at Montclair State University, where she is an associate professor. She is also a criminal justice expert, legal commentator, and blogger, with a particular focus on wrongful convictions, police corruption and misconduct, mass incarceration, and the death penalty.