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BARRED: Why the Innocent Can’t Get Out of Prison

12:00 pm–1:00 pm
McCollum Hall Room: 109
1875 N 42nd St
Lincoln NE 68503
Additional Info: LAW
Katie Pfannenstiel, (402) 472-8382,
Daniel Medwed, University Distinguished Professor of Law and Criminal Justice at Case Northeastern University, has spent more than twenty years in the field of criminal justice, serving as a public defender, as cofounder of a law school clinic that investigated post-conviction innocence claims, and now as a professor advocating for justice reform. He’s seen firsthand the deep-seated issues that plague the criminal process, namely how the system is complicit in putting innocent people behind bars. There are convictions that rest on dubious eyewitnesses. Possible police misconduct that goes uninvestigated. Subpar performance from overworked, even if well-meaning, defense attorneys. One would expect that wrongful convictions could be easily overturned by the courts, as long as evidence to prove a defendant’s innocence existed.

But in BARRED: Why the Innocent Can’t Get Out of Prison (Basic Books/Hachette Book Group; on-sale September 20, 2022), Medwed reveals how convoluted legal procedures—essentially technicalities—make exonerations nearly impossible. The rules surrounding litigation after conviction are extremely complex, with narrow guidelines on how much time a defendant has to submit notice of an appeal, which court to file in, and whether they will be allowed to present new evidence or to raise errors that occurred at the initial trial. Because of deferential attitudes toward lower courts, higher courts also tend to uphold convictions, even when there is compelling evidence of a miscarriage of justice.

One example in BARRED is the tragic story of Bobby Fennell, who spent sixteen years behind bars for a murder he didn’t commit. When Medwed and his team at Brooklyn Law School’s Second Look Program re-investigated the case, they were fully convinced of Bobby’s innocence. The prosecution’s argument had rested on a single unreliable eyewitness who admitted to receiving a deal in exchange for his testimony. Even more shocking—another man ultimately confessed to being the sole perpetrator. Yet because of the stringent rules around the appeals process and introducing new evidence, Medwed’s team had no legal recourse for getting another trial. Bobby’s plight is unfortunately far from unique.

This program has been approved for 1.0 continuing legal education credit in Nebraska.

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