Innocent After Proven Guilty: The Developing Role of Actual Innocence in Habeas Corpus Jurisprudence by Phillip Weiss

Introduction The death penalty is a punishment that is unique in its severity and finality.  There is no other punitive measure within our criminal system that can truly deprive an individual of their “last chance” like the ultimate penalty, being put to death.  The question whether there should be a death penalty in this country is a hotly debated topic.  However, there is one point which should seem clear to any reasonable mind: if this country does continue to allow capital punishment, it must be administered in a manner that will prevent wrongfully convicted, innocent defendants from being executed. Strangely, our criminal justice system has no clearly defined method for dealing with convicted defendants who claim that newly discovered facts can establish their innocence.  In recent years, however, courts have begun to grant certain types of relief to defendants who can convincingly demonstrate their innocence.  This note will track the development of the innocence claim as a means of post conviction relief. A. The rise of the actual innocence claim: The history through case law. In 1977, the Supreme Court, in Wainright v. Sykes,[1] held that a federal court cannot hear a habeas corpus claim that could have been made [read more]