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Wrongful Convictions Seminar

The emergence of DNA testing in the last fifteen years has exposed the dark side of the American criminal justice system: the conviction of numerous actually innocent men and women. Given that biological evidence suitable for post-conviction DNA testing is available in only a very limited number of cases, the exonerations generated by DNA represent only a small percentage of the number of actually innocent prisoners incarcerated throughout the United States. This seminar will explore (1) the factors that contribute to the phenomenon of wrongful convictions including eyewitness is identification, false confessions, ineffective assistance of counsel, jailhouse informants, police and prosecutorial misconduct, "junk science," and forensic fraud, (2) potential reforms that could be implemented to guard against the conviction of the innocent, and (3) government treatment of persons after they have been exonerated. Readings selected from the ever-growing literature on wrongful conviction, including an examination of procedures and strategies that are available to challenge wrongful convictions.

Grading and Method of Evaluation:
Letter grade with pass/fail option. A research paper on a topic of choice within the subject matter of the course is required which may be used to satify the Upperclass Writing Requirement. Class sessions will be devoted to discussion of the readings assigned and to oral presentations by students of the topics of their papers.