We are used to hearing about wrongful convictions where a murderer walked free because an innocent person was misidentified. But when Montclair State University professor Jessica Henry was researching material for her course on wrongful convictions, she discovered that in one-third of all known exonerations, the conviction was wrongful because there had not even been a crime.
This discovery paved the way for her new book, Smoke But No Fire: Convicting the Innocent of Crimes that Never Happened. In it, Henry recounts stories of disappearances deemed murders until the living “victim” was discovered; natural deaths deemed suspicious because of faulty forensic science; and fabricated accusations that sent innocent people to jail. More importantly, Henry identifies the lapses at every stage of the justice system that can allow for these injustices to occur: from dishonest police officers to careless forensic labs, over-zealous prosecutors, over-worked defense attorneys, and overly permissive and under-informed judges.
In this episode of the Modern Law Library, Henry speaks with the ABA Journal’s Lee Rawles about some of the strange and heart-rending stories she uncovered and how the legal community can work towards eliminating such injustices.