Junk Science and the American Criminal Justice System (Paperback)
Now in an expanded paperback edition, Innocence Project attorney M. Chris Fabricant presents an insider’s journey into the heart of a broken, racist system of justice and the role junk science plays in maintaining the status quo.
"Fierce and absorbing . . . Fabricant chronicles the battles he and his colleagues have fought to unravel a century of fraudulent experts and the bad court decisions that allowed them to thrive." —Washington Post
From CSI to Forensic Files to the celebrated reputation of the FBI crime lab, forensic scientists have long been mythologized in American popular culture as infallible crime solvers. Juries put their faith in "expert witnesses" and innocent people have been executed as a result. Innocent people are still on death row today, condemned by junk science.
In 2012, the Innocence Project began searching for prisoners convicted by junk science, and three men, each convicted of capital murder, became M. Chris Fabricant's clients. Junk Science and the American Criminal Justice System chronicles the fights to overturn their wrongful convictions and to end the use of the "science" that destroyed their lives. Weaving together courtroom battles from Mississippi to Texas to New York City and beyond, Fabricant takes the reader on a journey into the heart of a broken, racist system of justice and the role forensic science plays in maintaining the status quo.
At turns gripping, enraging, illuminating, and moving, Junk Science is a meticulously researched insider's perspective of the American criminal justice system. Previously untold stories of wrongful executions, corrupt prosecutors, and quackery masquerading as science animate Fabricant’s true crime narrative. The paperback edition features a brand-new index as well as an updated introduction and final chapter chronicling the Innocence Project’s continued fight against junk science in courtrooms across America.
— John Grisham, author of A Time for Mercy
An attorney uses the cases of clients who were wrongly convicted and imprisoned to question the status of forensics as reliable evidence, arguing that it is ‘subjective speculation masquerading as science, typically tilted in the government’s favor against an indigent person of color.
— New York Times Book Review
Readers—especially those fond of TV detectives and their infallible crime labs—will be flabbergasted by [Fabricant's] list of forensic techniques long used by labs, including the FBI's, and proclaimed by highly paid 'expert witnesses' that, when investigated by competent researchers, turn out to be unreliable or worthless . . . A brilliant rebuttal of junk science in the courtroom.
— Kirkus Reviews
This j'accuse provides a broader look at a deeply disturbing aspect of a criminal justice system already considered racist and biased by many . . . The endemic injustices Fabricant lays bare will likely shake even advocates of robust law and order approaches.
— Publishers Weekly
Junk Science is a book that should be on every true-crime reader's shelves. It is an eye-opening and infuriating tour through the failed idealism of forensic science as a discipline, how certain techniques like analyzing fibers and bite marks wilt under scrutiny, and how the criteria for 'experts' in a courtroom can be laughable at best and dangerous at worst, causing scores of innocent people to lose decades behind bars (or, in some heartbreaking instances, their lives.).
M. Chris Fabricant's ground-breaking new work is here to explain (and explain well) what happened, where we went wrong, and how many have paid the price of junk science convictions. Fabricant's long involv[ment] with the Innocence Project lends his book credence and weight, as he details overturned convictions, shoddy research, and the vast egos that underpinned some of the worst work in the history of criminal (in)justice.
Spellbinding . . . Junk Science is a sobering testament to the need for humility—for admitting that our knowledge is limited and fallible—both in science and in the law. Questions of justice are too important to be left to hocus-pocus.
— Washington Examiner
I believed in the polygraph test, in an unthinking way, right up until last week when I read a new book by M. Chris Fabricant, Junk Science and the American Criminal Justice System, which carefully and unarguably explains that almost every forensic science is unreliable, and most are entirely bogus.
— Spectator (UK)
Few people are more qualified to write about wrongful convictions in the US than M. Chris Fabricant . . . Fabricant's book shows how faulty ideas from blood spatter analysis to shaken baby syndrome were developed, infected court systems, and ruined a still-untold number of lives.
Fabricant expertly delves into now-discredited forensic tactics, including bite mark analysis and outmoded methods used in arson investigations, to show how investigators and prosecutors often used pseudo science to put innocent people in prison for decades.
— Texas Observer
Speaking of the Innocence Project, Fabricant’s work as its director of strategic litigation has given him unique perspective into how bad science leads to worse results—namely, an untold number of wrongful convictions.
— David Lat - Original Jurisdiction
Inherently fascinating and impressively written, exceptionally well organized and presented . . . Singularly informative, thought-provoking, and critically important."
— Midwest Book Review
Junk Science is beautifully written, a compilation of stories of trials, appeals, the vagaries of purported science in the courtroom, and the author's personal journey across two landscapes—the many states where he went to challenge bitemark or similar evidence and his own journey of growth as a lawyer and friend to those jailed based on what is at times head-shakingly bad proof . . . Put simply, Junk Science is essential reading . . .
— ABA Criminal Justice Section Magazine
Junk Science and the American Criminal Justice System is a captivating, evocative, and disheartening narrative assessment of forensic science in the American judicial system. It is an entertaining, intriguing, and insightful mainstream audience read—not a cathartic exercise . . .
— Champion Magazine
Through his book, Junk Science and the American Criminal Justice System, Fabricant said he is trying to create a new genre—not true crime, but 'untrue crime'—showcasing misused forensic science and its impact on innocent people.
Eye-opening, endlessly engaging, and equally infuriating—this book is a must-read.
Often riveting, well-researched, and utterly convincing, this book sounds a frightening alarm about unreliable expert testimony in the courtroom.
— New York Journal of Books
An Innocence Project attorney has a new book out that he hopes will bring more awareness to the kind of ‘junk science’ that leads to wrongful convictions.
Fabricant's groundbreaking work for the Innocence Project has exposed the corrosive effect that junk 'science' has in our criminal justice system. He's a brilliant writer and legal mind. A must-read.
— Pamela Colloff
Fabricant . . . makes a number of strong points, and anyone who reads this book will conclude that certain changes need to be made.
— The Strand Magazine
Chris Fabricant has written a compelling account of how the 'junk science' of connecting bitemarks to human teeth has resulted in dozens of wrongful convictions of innocent people in America . . . This book powerfully exposes how forensic dentists have used methods with no scientific basis to convict the wrong people and the guilty people went free.
— Maurice Possley, Pulitzer Prize–winning author
Fact by fact, case by case, scandal by scandal, M. Chris Fabricant expertly dissects some of the grossest failures of challenged forensic science techniques, providing a hard-nosed insider’s tour of a fifty-year legal war to improve the US criminal justice system. Junk Science is for anyone wanting to go behind the headlines of wrongful convictions, who hungers to probe their root causes, and who is fighting to win criminal justice reform, inside and out of the system. Fabricant writes here like a combatant with a duty to bear witness, burning to teach an adversarial system how to come to terms with scientific truth and to show the monstrous toll of its failures.
— Spencer S. Hsu, investigative reporter, two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist
Junk Science is a powerful exposé of a broken criminal legal system, deeply researched and moving. A must-read for anyone interested in the role unreliable evidence plays in maintaining the status quo.
— Christina Swarns, executive director of the Innocence Project
We think that science in the courtroom always serves justice—well, think again! This fascinating book by Innocence Project attorney M. Chris Fabricant shows how junk science in our criminal justice system is used to convict the innocent. Forget CSI and what you think of science in the courtroom, this eye-opening book from the front line of the battle for true justice could not be more urgent.
— Itiel Dror, Senior Cognitive Neuroscience Researcher, University College London