Barrie Anderson, with Dawn Anderson, Manufacturing Guilt: Wrongful Convictions in Canada. Halifax: Fernwood Books, 1998, 136pp, $15.95 paper.

There’s nothing like a case of wrongful conviction for heaping public attention on the Criminal Justice System. Canada has had its share of such cases: who hasn’t now heard of Guy Paul Morin, Donald Marshall or David Milgaard?

The book under review examines these and other less contemporary cases of miscarried justice (or, in the case, of Steven Truscott, suspected miscarriage of justice) and is an attempt to construct what might be termed a sociology of wrongful conviction.

The aforementioned high profile cases are seen as being but the tip of the proverbial iceberg, in that, according to various American, British and Canadian sources, it is estimated that anywhere between 1% and 6% of inmates currently languishing in prison have been wrongfully convicted.

The author uses published, and by now quite familiar, accounts of these cases to mount his 2-stage argument. Firstly, he says that official explanation of miscarried justice is wrong (they are more than just isolated incidents of mistaken identity, of being in the wrong place at the wrong time). Secondly, he argues that problems with the front-line administration of justice interact with wider structural factors to ensure that wrongful conviction has a number of common elements.

The immediate causes of wrongful misconvictions are traced back to, variously: the pressures that police are under to come up with an arrest; the early assumption of a suspect’s guilt and the knock on effect that this has upon subsequent evidence gathering; the use of ‘jailhouse’ testimony; the dubious courtroom tactics of prosecuting counsel; and the poor quality of the defense mounted by the accused’s counsel.

However, the judicial consequences of this combination of bad luck, incompetence and malevolence are not equally distributed throughout the population: some individuals are more vulnerable to miscarriages of justice than others; and it is at this juncture that the author links inequalities in society with discrimination in the criminal justice system. Hence the argument that the casualities of police, courts and correctional activity are drawn disproportionately from the ranks of the poor and disadvantaged (or - as in the case of Guy Paul Morin - those who are simply seen as oddballs in their communities).

This is a hard book to evaluate. On the one hand, it is interesting and well-written; on the other, there is nothing new in the stories profiled - they are familiar enough to anybody who reads newspapers or watches CBC docudramas. Moreover, I’m not sure that the author does prove his case about systematic bias against certain kinds of individuals in the criminal justice system. Organizationaly, the book is little more than the six case studies sandwiched between set piece left-wing sociological criminology (most of which this reviewer subscribes to) at front and back ends. Whether or not this constitutes what the author clearly would like it to be - a sociological analysis of wrongful conviction - is a moot point. Still, undergraduates will enjoy it, and it will certainly stimulate debate and discussion in the classroom.

Julian Tanner
Department of Sociology
University of Toronto at Scarborough

November 1998
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