DNA Exonerations and the Elusive Promise of Criminal Justice Reform

10 Pages Posted: 10 Aug 2017

See all articles by Carissa Byrne Hessick

Carissa Byrne Hessick

University of North Carolina School of Law

Date Written: August 9, 2017


Wrongful Convictions and the DNA Revolution: Twenty-Five Years of Freeing the Innocent is an ambitious and important book. It not only provides a thorough and nuanced overview of DNA exonerations, it also challenges the reader to consider whether real criminal justice reform is possible. While some chapters take an optimistic approach to the question of reform, others paint a much more troubling picture. To be clear, these pessimistic messages in these chapters are a reason to read this volume, not a reason to avoid it. Those who wish to educate themselves about the criminal justice system will invariably learn things that are discomforting. Our system is far from perfect, and there are many reasons that reform has repeatedly stalled.

Indeed, that reform remains elusive may be one of the most important lessons that we can learn from DNA exonerations. Those exonerations upended the conventional wisdom about the accuracy of the criminal justice system, proving that our system has repeatedly failed to sort the innocent from the guilty, and highlighting various features of the current system that almost certainly impair accurate determinations of guilt in cases without DNA evidence. But changing public opinion about the fallibility of the criminal justice system has not been enough to start a true “revolution.” There will be no revolution until (and unless) we demand changes investigative changes from law enforcement, ensure effective assistance from defense attorneys, refuse to tolerate incompetence and inattention from prosecutors, devote more resources to criminal justice, and renounce efficiency as the driving value in criminal cases.

Keywords: book review, DNA exonerations, criminal justice reform

Suggested Citation

Hessick, Carissa Byrne, DNA Exonerations and the Elusive Promise of Criminal Justice Reform (August 9, 2017). Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law, Vol. 15, 2017, No. Forthcoming; UNC Legal Studies Research Paper. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3016028

Carissa Byrne Hessick (Contact Author)

University of North Carolina School of Law ( email )

Van Hecke-Wettach Hall, 160 Ridge Road
CB #3380
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3380
United States

Register to save articles to
your library


Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics