America’s flawed justice system


Ghost of the Innocent Man: A True Story of Trial and Redemption by Benjamin Rachlin, Little, Brown and Company, US $27.00, Pp 400, August 2017, ISBN 978-0316311496

Willie J. Grimes, a law-abiding citizen with no record of violence, was wrongly convicted of first-degree rape and convicted to a life sentence in the summer of 1988. Ghost of the Innocent Man is the story of his quarter-century-long journey to freedom which came because of the relentless efforts of Christine Mumma, a co-founder of North Carolina’s Innocence Inquiry Commission – unprecedented at its inception in 2006 — is a model organization which is behind a growing number of exonerations. In Ghost of the Innocent Man, Benjamin Rachlin shows that American justice system is extremely flawed and chances of justice being miscarried are high. Most of these wrongful convictions happen because of faulty evidence and the accused’s inability to pay for legal help.

In its first report on the known wrongful convictions in the United States, the National Registry of Exonerations, a joint project of the law schools at Northwestern and the University of Michigan, summarized in half-page paragraphs 873 cases, between 11 and 66 each year for more than two decades. The starting year was 1989 when DNA testing came into use. There were certainly more such cases they could not detect. They would have discovered much more if they had gone further back. Most of these 873 cases had been convicted of rape and homicide, only because these were the crimes where post-conviction resources were concentrated. A lawyer who feels moved to act after recognizing that justice has been miscarried would act in cases where the accused received longest sentences or death penalties. Naturally, these verdicts were given in most heinous crimes and it is in such cases that you feel much needed. This is why most exonerations reported in the press are for murders and rape. These are not the only cases where the judges erred. There must be innocent people who are wrongly convicted in cases of thefts, assault, drug sales, or tax fraud.

873 exonerations were discovered in forty-three states, Washington DC, and Puerto Rico. The state with the most exonerations was Illinois, followed by New York, Texas, and California. The registry could not find a single exoneration in Maine, Vermont, Delaware, New Mexico, Wyoming, or either of the Dakotas, possibly because no or little effort was made to provide post-conviction legal help to them. The registry found another 198 cases of exoneration within 10 months of the release of its first report. In 2012 alone, 97 people had been exonerated. Two years later 140 more exonerations came up. In 2015, 151 new exonerations were added to the list. The number of exonerations by 2015 exceeded 1700.  On March 1, 2017, the total number of exonerations surpassed two thousand.

Ghost of the Innocent Man is an honest and critical look at our justice system. It is equally a story of a wrongful conviction. Benjamin Rachlin convincingly shows that our justice system is flawed and needs to be fixed. The flawed justice system is a source of great pain for thousands of people. It is a meticulously researched book. It is a must-read for every American who cares about justice.