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2008 U. Ill. L. Rev. 1549 (2008)

handle is hein.journals/unilllr2008 and id is 1559 raw text is: INNOCENTRISM
Daniel S. Medwed*
The following Essay by Professor Daniel S. Medwed provides a
response to skeptics and antagonists of the emerging centrality of in-
nocence-based arguments in criminal law. Professor Medwed con-
tends that the growing focus on innocence, which he terms innocen-
trism, is a positive occurrence and one that ultimately can
complement, rather than replace, the emphasis on substantive and
procedural rights that for good reason rest at the core of American
criminal law. The Essay begins by discussing an array of criticisms
that scholars and practitioners have launched against the innocence
movement. Professor Medwed then argues that although these criti-
cisms have some validity, they fall short in justifying the rejection of
actual innocence as a major focal point of the criminal justice dis-
course in the twenty-first century. The author ultimately concludes
that innocentrism should have a significant place in this discourse,
and it can do so in concert with other time-tested criminal law values.
American criminal law is undergoing a transformation due to the
increasing centrality of issues related to actual innocence in courtrooms,
classrooms, and newsrooms. This phenomenon, which I will term inno-
centrism, derives mainly from the emergence of DNA testing and the
subsequent use of that technology to exonerate innocent prisoners. In-
deed, since 1989, over 200 prisoners have been freed as a result of post-
conviction DNA testing,' and dozens of nonprofit innocence projects
have sprung up to investigate and litigate claims of innocence.2 Legisla-
*  Associate Professor of Law, University of Utah, S.J. Quinney College of Law. J.D. 1995,
Harvard Law School; B.A. 1991, Yale College. I am grateful to Robert Adler, Jensie Anderson,
Adele Bernhard, Jonathan Eldan, Leslie Francis, Sharissa Jones, Richard Leo, Erik Luna, Peter Neu-
feld, Alice Ristroph, and Marvin Zalman for sharing their thoughts on this Essay as well as to Tara
Harrison for her helpful research assistance.
1. For a current list of the number of inmates exonerated through post-conviction DNA testing,
see Innocence Project, http://www.innocenceproject.org/ (last visited May 14, 2008); see also Brandon
L. Garrett, Judging Innocence, 108 COLUM. L. REV. 55 (2008) (analyzing the issues involved in the first
200 DNA exonerations).
2. Innocence projects are typically structured as either freestanding nonprofit legal organiza-
tions or clinics associated with law or journalism schools. For a discussion of the policies and practices


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