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Injustice: Life and Death in the Courtrooms of America Paperback – 22 Aug 2013
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"True stories of wrongful convictions are by their nature utterly compelling. In Injustice, Clive Stafford Smith details a spectacular example of a bogus conviction, and the many lives ruined by it...A superbly written account of only one case, but one of thousands." (John Grisham)
"Clive Stafford Smith is an extraordinary lawyer, but he is also a great storyteller and his account of the Kris Maharaj death row case is a powerful thriller, beautifully told." (Helena Kennedy Q.C.)
"Stafford Smith is a true hero and this book helps explain why." (Jon Ronson)
"If you believe in the death penalty, read this book. It will change your mind and change your life. A book that zaps through you at 2,000 volts – just like the current used to execute a man in the electric chair." (Susan Hill)
"An empowering read for anyone who cares about the humane implementation of justice - no matter where it is." (Colin Firth)
A man wrongly convicted of murder, a crusading lawyer determined to overturn the death penalty and an investigation that reveals corruption at every turn. This remarkable book reads like a page-turning detective story, with one crucial difference: can we be sure that justice will be served?See all Product description
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The core of the book is the story of Kris Maharaj, a British businessman convicted in Miami of the murder of Derrick Moo Young and his son Duane in 1986. For Derrick's murder he was given life imprisonment. For the murder of Duane he was sentenced to death. Clive Stafford Smith takes us through the whole story of Kris's involvement with the Moo Youngs, and how he came to be convicted; in doing so he lifts the lid on every aspect of the American legal system and what can go wrong with it, including the Defenders, the Prosecutors, the Police, the Witnesses (including the Experts), the Jury and the various legal processes, from arrest through trial and appeal to execution. And we get an insight into how illicit drugs are trafficked, and how (in all likelihood) they led to the conviction of Maharaj for murders which (in all likelihood) he did not commit. I have to say "in all likelihood" because all of his appeals have failed, and he long ago reached the end of the legal road, despite the fact that Clive Stafford Smith has produced enough evidence to convince any reasonable person that Kris Maharaj is an innocent man. (And, in case you're wondering, not just innocent of these murders, but also innocent of any other criminal offence.)
What appals me, as a UK citizen, is the strong similarity which Clive Stafford Smith points out between the US legal system and ours in the UK. We no longer indulge in judicial killing, but there are many depressing ways in which the UK matches the US in promoting injustice, and as a result keeps people in prison who really should not be there. Just one example: the procedural bar, which is applied in the UK appeal system as strictly as in the US. If your lawyer had access (or could have had access, if he were bright enough) to information which he then failed to use at the time of your trial - for whatever reason, with or without your knowledge - you may not use that information in any subsequent appeal: so, as Clive Stafford Smith says, "if you have an inept lawyer, your chances of a fair result at trial are slim, and you have little or no chance of winning a new trial on appeal: your lawyer 'waived' the claims by failing to raise them during the original trial, so you are 'procedurally barred'." The US appeals system does not want to hear about evidence that proves you innocent, yet it is comparatively easy for a person, whether innocent or guilty, to win an appeal on the grounds of a technical impropriety in the original trial. Read Michael Naughton's book The Criminal Cases Review Commission: Hope for the Innocent? for proof that the procedural bar works equally effectively (?!) in the UK.
Clive Stafford Smith follows the history of Kris Maharaj almost up to the present. His is a case that went wrong in every conceivable way from start to finish. Before we even start on Chapter 1, we learn that he escaped the death penalty and is still in jail after 26 years, but the reader is left wondering whether death would have been the kinder option. If you are interested in discovering how the "justice" system simply doesn't work, this book will be an eye-opener.
The law applied in the uk i think would on the evidence provided have cleared Kris Maharaj of the charge of murder
The law applied in the different states of the USA has left this man languishing on death row.
The author has explained these differences in great detail using his personal expertise in the British legal system.
But as the author explains, in well researched, shocking detail, the American legal system just doesn't work that way. Take just one appalling detail among hundreds: when an appeal is finally arranged before a new jury, that jury is forbidden to hear any suggestions that the man making the appeal might possibly be innocent. That's right - the word 'innocent' cannot be used in court! So when a British MP, Peter Bottomley, tells the jury 'This is a miscarriage of justice' his video link is cut off and the defence lawyer threatened with jail!
What has that got to do with justice? Exactly. That is the question that comes up again and again, throughout this terrible story. As I was reading, I often laughed out loud, not because what I read was funny in an amusing way, but because it was totally absurd, unbelievable, like a tale from Alice in Wonderland or a justice system designed by Franz Kafka. All the way through I kept thinking, 'this is absurd, it's terrible, it can't possibly get any worse'. But it does. Why? Because every absurdity, every injustice, has its own logic, its own level of humanity. There are very few really evil people in this story; just a system that with a maze of rules which, as everyone follows them, leads to a result that it totally inhumane.
And Clive Stafford Smith, who has spent much of his life working for pitifully small rewards for clients on Death Row, describes exactly how and why all this happens. He is like the little guy in John Grisham's stories - the lawyer who cares more about justice than money - but Stafford Smith, and few others like him, are actually real, thank goodness. God send me a lawyer who cares, if I ever get into trouble.
It would be nice to think things are better in Britain; and certainly some things are different. We don't have the death penalty, or judges and prosecutors who stand for election, campaigning on how harsh they can be. But we've had our own scandals: the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four; the strange business (also involving Stafford Smith) of the courts and Binyam Mohammed.
And on a smaller scale, this book reminded me of another British case, less well known, not quite so cruel or nearly lethal as the injustice suffered by Kris Maharaj, but still similar in the sense of an innocent man trapped in a legal spider's web which he cannot resist or escape: the case of of John Bartlett, well described in his book Chequered Justice. Here too I kept thinking: 'this can't really happen, can't get any worse.' But it does.
Read Clive Stafford Smith's book, 'superbly written' as John Grisham says, and then, for a comparison, read John Bartlett's book too. Both endorsed by Michael Mansfield QC.