Innocence Unmodified

By Emily Hughes / North Carolina Law Review , on 1 January 2010

The Article proceeds in three parts. Part I explains the pivotal role that “actual” innocence has played in the Innocence Movement. It shows that even though the Innocence Movement has begun to broaden its DNA-based focus to include non-DNA-based claims, its goal has remained constant: achieving justice for “actually” innocent people. Part I then shows how the Innocence Movement has prioritized the cases of “actually” innocent people who were convicted through trial over “actually” innocent people who pleaded guilty. The prioritization of wrongful convictions derived from trials over wrongful convictions from pleas underscores how the Innocence Movement has overlooked the claims of people who have pleaded guilty and are not “actually” innocent, but who may still have strong wrongful conviction claims based on fundamental constitutional violations. Part II examines innocence unmodified in the context of trials and postconviction appeals. It asserts that one reason to protect innocence unmodified is because under the Court‟s existing jurisprudence, “actual” innocence alone is not enough to reverse a wrongful conviction. This is because the Supreme Court has not yet decided whether the Constitution forbids the execution of an “actually” innocent person who was convicted through a “full and fair” trial. Because the Court has not recognized a freestanding “actual” innocence claim, the “actual” innocence of a wrongly convicted person only matters as a door through which to allow a court to reach underlying constitutional claims. Part II uses the example of a recent Supreme Court decision, In Re Troy Davis, to highlight how an isolated prioritization of “actual” innocence does not achieve justice for wrongly convicted people. Part III examines innocence unmodified in the context of pleas. It reveals the degree to which the Court has itself polarized innocence in the context of pleas—prioritizing “actual” innocence over fundamental constitutional protections for all people.

  • Document type Article
  • Countries list United States
  • Themes list Innocence,