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'Shifted Science' and Post-Conviction Relief

Caitlin M. Plummer


Imran J. Syed

Michigan Innocence Clinic

January 22, 2012

Stanford Journal of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Vol. 8, Forthcoming

Of the many known causes of wrongful convictions, perhaps the most complex and diverse is junk science. We explore here a long-overlooked subset of that category and ask the question: What can be done to cure the injustice of a conviction that was based on scientific testimony that may have been accepted in the relevant scientific community at the time of trial, but has since been completely repudiated? In such an instance, a defendant remains in prison even though the evidence that served as the basis of his conviction has been renounced. After describing the problem and conducting a review of common post-conviction claims- and the reasons they fail in this situation- this article argues that state courts must allow defendants in this unique bind to file new evidence claims to obtain relief. Because new evidence is, as of now, not recognized as a viable basis for a federal constitutional claim, defendants will not have easy recourse in federal habeas corpus petitions, and it is especially crucial that state courts ensure that their rules for new trial motions on the basis of new evidence are broad enough to cover the important category of people discussed here. The article concludes by proposing that federal courts could provide relief to such innocent defendants on habeas if they embrace expansive interpretations of a person’s right to be free from unjust incarceration, and they should do so in order to continue to serve as a check on state court failures causing manifest injustice.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 44

Keywords: wrongful convictions, junk science, actual innocence, due process

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Date posted: January 23, 2012 ; Last revised: February 13, 2012

Suggested Citation

Plummer, Caitlin M. and Syed, Imran J., 'Shifted Science' and Post-Conviction Relief (January 22, 2012). Stanford Journal of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Vol. 8, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1989683

Contact Information

Caitlin M. Plummer
No Address Available
Imran J. Syed (Contact Author)
Michigan Innocence Clinic ( email )
625 South State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1215
United States

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