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April 12, 2023

Two notable new legal commentaries from Slate on innocence and prison change-agents

Today I came across two notable new pieces at Slate, both of which justify their own posts but will end up combined here.  Specifically, here are headlines, links and openning paragraphs to whet appetites: 

From Austin Sarat, "Is Punishing Innocent People Unconstitutional?":

Last December, Christopher Dunn asked the United States Supreme Court to order his release from prison or at least grant him a new trial. He is serving a life sentence in Missouri for a crime he did not commit, and he is hoping the court will agree to take up his case this spring.

Dunn contends that the U.S. Constitution forbids punishing innocent people and is asking the justices to declare that it is unconstitutional for a state to keep an innocent man in prison. A court in Missouri now agrees that he is not guilty. But Dunn is caught up in a nightmarish legal thicket. It is time for the Supreme Court to end his nightmare and say that this country will not tolerate punishing the innocent.

From Seema Saifee, "One of the Best Ideas for Ending Mass Incarceration Was Thought Up in a Prison":

The United States locks up more people than almost every other nation. To dethrone us from that perch, scholars have crunched the numbers: Targeting only low-level, drug, and “non-violent” offenses will not meaningfully cut prison populations. Reckoning with mass incarceration demands reducing reliance on prisons for conduct that our criminal laws deem violent.  To produce such a significant dent in our prisons, political leaders and scholars turn to prosecutors, academics, policy wonks, and sometimes community groups for strategies. Underneath this hierarchy hides an unquestioned intuition: Those who benefit from freedom hold a monopoly on how to shrink prisons. So self-evident is this premise that it conceals a counterintuitive phenomenon: Promising strategies to reduce prison populations for violent crime have been incubated inside prison walls.

In a recent paper, I reveal how people behind bars have created concepts and strategies that have opened up new possibilities to reduce incarceration and reduce crime.  In fact, lawyers, researchers, policymakers, and abolitionists have harnessed these “inside moves” to do just that.

April 12, 2023 at 04:02 PM | Permalink


*If* Dunn didn't do it, nothing else should matter. OF COURSE they should let him out.

Posted by: William C Jockusch | Apr 13, 2023 9:27:02 PM

Story from Mr. Sarat includes an error. The Lincoln case is from the Missouri Court of Appeals, not the Missouri Supreme Court. The trial judge found that Mr. Dunn met the "gateway"/Schlup standard of actual innocence but did not analyze whether he met the freestanding claim given the fact that the only opinion on that issue found that freestanding claims were only available in capital cases. It further found that, while the gateway standard was met, permitting review of the merits claims, the merits claims lacked merit.

He also ignores that the appellate court and the Missouri Supreme Court also looked at the case and summarily denied. It should also be noted that Mr. Dunn's Supreme Court petition is actually not a petition for writ of certiorari. It is an attempt to file a habeas petition in the U.S. Supreme Court. While, in theory, the U.S. Supreme Court could grant it, I can't remember the last time that the Supreme Court granted any extraordinary writ as the original court.

Posted by: tmm | Apr 16, 2023 10:22:14 AM

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