Innocence Unmodified

BY Emily Hughes

The Innocence Movement has participated in deconstructing the concept of “innocence” into “actual” and “legal” innocence. Because the Innocence Movement has focused on defendants who did not commit the actions underlying their convictions, courts, lawyers, and the larger society have come to believe that a person is wrongly convicted of a crime only if the person is actually innocent. This perception overlooks the fact that a person can be wrongly convicted if their constitutional rights were violated in the process of obtaining the conviction. As such, the Innocence Movement devalues legal innocence and the constitutional values that underlie a broader conception of innocence. In order to affirm the importance of those constitutional values, this Article argues for the need to reclaim an understanding of innocence unmodified by qualifiers such as “actual” or “legal.” This Article explains how the concept of actual innocence has played a pivotal role in the development of the Innocence Movement. After examining innocence unmodified in the context of trials, it explains that one reason to protect innocence unmodified is because the Supreme Court has not yet held that actual innocence alone is enough to reverse a wrongful conviction; constitutional claims underlying an actual innocence claim, working together, are necessary to achieve justice. The Article then explores innocence unmodified in the context of guilty pleas. It reveals the degree to which the Court has itself reduced innocence to a binary—prioritizing actual innocence over fundamental constitutional protections for all people, including people who might be wrongly convicted if the courts do not safeguard their constitutional rights. The Article concludes that a modified conception of innocence dilutes the constitutional core that protects us all—innocent or guilty alike.

DOWNLOAD PDF | 89 N.C. L. Rev. 1083 (2011)

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