This course will survey the problem of wrongful convictions. As of the writing of this syllabus, well over 2,200 innocent individuals have been exonerated, 352 by DNA alone; by the time our semester together is over, no doubt there will be more. And because exonerations occur only in the small subset of cases in which exculpatory evidence is discoverable, logic compels us to conclude that there must remain countless individuals locked behind bars for crimes they did not commit. In this course, we will first examine the primary causes of wrongful convictions, including “junk science,” false confessions, prosecutorial misconduct, misidentifications, jailhouse snitches, and ineffective assistance of counsel. Next, we will explore the legal landscape of actual innocence litigation, including habeas corpus, Section 1983, and the lingering question of whether innocence alone is a constitutional basis for relief. Finally, we will consider the moral, ethical, and philosophical implications of wrongful convictions for our justice system, and the difficulty of administering a functioning system while also correcting its mistakes.
- We hope that, by the end of this class, you will have a working understanding of the most common causes of wrongful convictions and the most common issues that arise when litigating them.
- We also hope that, throughout the course, you will develop a broader sense for what the fact of wrongful convictions means for our criminal justice system overall, and what if anything we can improve.
- Finally, we hope that you will develop and demonstrate improved critical thinking, persuasive writing, and oral advocacy through the written and oral components of this class.