'Shifted Science' and Post-Conviction Relief
44 Pages Posted: 23 Jan 2012 Last revised: 13 Feb 2012
Date Written: January 22, 2012
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.
Keywords: wrongful convictions, junk science, actual innocence, due process
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