Categories: Criminal Law
Hundreds of wrongly convicted people in the United States have been exonerated by postconviction DNA testing in the past two decades. Hundreds more have been exonerated by other types as evidence as well. As a consequence, wrongful convictions have emerged as a serious concern in the criminal justice system. This course examines the rise of the Innocence Movement and the lessons learned from the wrongful convictions cases. The course examines the causes or recurring features of wrongful convictions, including eyewitness identification error, false confessions, flawed forensic science, and others. The course then considers the way the legal system responds to such errors; it examines legal avenues for postconviction relief, including both state-based remedies and federal habeas corpus; and it considers the obstacles to and availability of compensation for wrongful convictions. Both practice and policy implications of error in the criminal justice system are examined.
By the end of this course, students should:
1. have a solid understanding of the factors that contribute to wrongful convictions;
2. learn to think critically about the criminal justice system, and be capable of assessing ways that the criminal justice system can be made to function more reliably, so as to overcome errors that produce wrongful convictions;
3. understand the procedural steps and legal standards applicable to postconviction challenges to a conviction; and
4. obtain a deep understanding of the importance of evaluating facts with an open mind, viewing claims and statements about facts and law with healthy skepticism, and exhaustively examining all claims, even when they seem obvious.