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Review of You Have the Right to Remain Innocent- James Duane, Little A, New York, 2016

Much has been written about US rates of incarceration and of the Police’s and Legal System’s machinations and conspiracy in denying justice in the United States. Both the statistics and individual stories are heart-rending and frustrating. Entire communities have been devastated by basic attacks on their constitutional rights; with the current administration, the expectation is that institutional excesses will be broader and deeper.

right-to-remain-innocentIn such times, James Duane’s You Have the Right to Remain Innocent is incredibly important to read and then pass on to others. An extension of Duane’s massively viewed video “Don’t Talk to Police,” this book provides a necessary primer to all who labor under the noble but hoary notion that the truth will set us free , as regards the relationship of ordinary people with the Police and other agents of “Law Enforcement.”

The upshot of the book is that talking to the police freely is almost always a bad thing to do. With much detail to back up his argument and with countless stories of the miscarriage of justice, Duane argues that the natural tendency innocent people have to tell the truth in the hope of exoneration is dangerous; the Police, Prosecutors, and Courts have an incredibly distorted sense of what’s fair-game and legal manipulation of innocent people is the direct by-product of the system. Duane argues forcefully that, whether well- or ill-intentioned, these actors, through system advantage, manipulation, confirmation bias, and even human frailty, preside over a system that offers few protections for the innocent and in fact conspires in the incarceration (and even death) of innocent people.

Duane covers a lot of ground in this engaging and accessible book. He draws on his deep knowledge of the law to argue that Federal law is byzantine and impossible to keep track of, that a variety of ordinary acts are actually Federal crimes, and that the conservatism of the judiciary has made it very difficult for ordinary people to navigate the shoals of the legal system.

He also makes it abundantly clear that both speech and silence can be seen as indicative of guilt and offers thus a tactical playbook for people who are faced with even seemingly trivial encounters with Law Enforcement. Put simply, neither talk much nor shut up. If in the position, say “I Want a Lawyer” and don’t embellish the sentence with punctuation or excess verbiage.

Given that Duane’s book is meant to be a tactical primer (with explanations of the whys and wherefores) one can forgive him for not editorializing much. If, however, there is one small cavil, it would be that he goes out of his way to overemphasize how well-meaning many officers of the Law are. With all of the revelations about institutional racism, brutality, and quota-based systems and volitional framing of innocents, I think he’d do well to revisit his own views. Many officers of the Law are good people no doubt but many are also callous and base.

Of the many books that come one’s way, You Have the Right to Remain Innocent is one of the few that is necessary. Buy it or borrow it. Now.

Romi Mahajan can be reached at romi@thekkmgroup.com

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