While many of us might enjoy the cerebral pleasures that films may bring into our busy—and sometimes over-extended—lives, we, typically, are not privy to the real-world, everyday realities of what goes on in courtrooms, jails, prisons and associated legal institutions across the nation, unless, of course, we are professionally associated with a specific legal case (or cases).
Our lives are most often not directly affected with the burdens associated with individuals incarcerated in county, state and/or federal facilities. Some of the quiet mantras or prejudices those of us on the “outside” may sometimes harbor might suggest a private, subtle reservation: those on the “inside” most likely engaged the act for which they have been imprisoned. No Questions Asked. End of Story.
With the influx of cable television and “reality” shows, and cable programming’s prominent place in our living rooms, viewers are sometimes left to decipher the good, the bad and the ugly from the fictional, false and artificial.
Herewith are ten solid films and programs which address real, authentic and bona fide matters of wrongful convictions, false imprisonment, eyewitness identification, recantations, forensic evidence, prosecutorial misconduct and related issues:
- The Exonerated (2006): Starring Danny Glover, Susan Sarandon and Aidan Quinn. The film tells the story of six individuals who were exonerated after being sentenced to death. (The film is Court-TV’s film version of the play of the same name.)
- Conviction (2010): Starring Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell. “Conviction” presents the true-life story of a woman determined to prove her brother’s innocence for a crime for which he has been falsely convicted.
- American Justice: Programs include “Lying Eyes” (2001); “Another Man’s Crimes” (2007); “The Green Beret Murder Mystery” (2000). Bill Kurtis serves as the show’s host.
- Dead Men Talking (1998): The program covers the National Conference on Wrongful Conviction and the Death Penalty. The show includes a discussion with Barry Scheck, Rolando Cruz, Dennis Williams, and Kirk Bloodsworth.
- After Innocence (2005): After Innocence tells the dramatic and compelling story of the exonerated – innocent men wrongfully imprisoned for decades and then released after DNA evidence proved their innocence. Focusing on the gripping stories of seven men, including a police officer, an army sergeant and a young father that were sent to prison for decades – in some cases death row – for crimes they did not commit, After Innocence explores the emotional journeys these men face when thrust back into society with little or no support from the system that put them behind bars.
- ABC (Prime Time): False Confessions (2006): The program focuses on the phenomenon of false confessions and interrogation tactics that can lead people to confess to crimes they did not commit. The cases of John Restivo, Dennis Halstead, and John Kogut, who were exonerated through DNA evidence in New York.
- Murder on a Sunday Morning (2001): This Oscar-winning documentary follows the defense case of an African American teenager wrongly accused of robbing and murdering a white tourist in Florida. The film focuses on racism and misconduct in the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.
- The Trials of Darryl Hunt (2006): The story of Darryl Hunt’s decades-long fight for justice after being wrongfully convicted of rape and murder. The film follows Hunt’s multiple appeals and chronicles the police misconduct that contributed to the 20 years Hunt spent in prison for a crime he did not commit. The documentary was short-listed for an Academy Award for best documentary.
- Dallas DNA (2009): A program presented by Investigation Discovery highlights the Conviction Integrity Unity, a division of the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office dedicated to clearing innocent inmates through post-conviction DNA testing.
- A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life (2011): A film by Werner Herzog, the documentary tells the story of two death row inmates in the United States. Conversations were filmed at the prison facilities in Livingston and Huntsville, Texas, with the accused: Michael Perry and Jason Burkett. Herzog maintains that he doesn’t present a position on the issue of the death penalty, but he does have “a story to tell.”
Many of these videos are available for purchase through this website along with several books also dealing with wrongful conviction from amazon.com. A portion of the proceeds are returned to IPF. Click here to review and purchase.