One of the first lessons taught in the year-long Boston College Innocence Clinic concerns the concept of “factual innocence.” It is closely related to the concept of “actual innocence,” though different jurisdictions may refer to one or the other, and the substance and application of those terms can vary. Regardless of which term is deployed, it’s a bit of a head-scratcher when clinic students learn that the legal concept of “actual innocence” entails its own discrete body of thought and doctrine within criminal law. Doesn’t the determination of actual innocence suffuse the entire criminal-legal process?
It turns out it does not, and factual innocence is largely a claim raised in the post-conviction setting to overturn a wrongful conviction. That claim often finds little legal purchase. In Herrera v. Collins, for instance, the Supreme Court held that a claim of actual innocence does not entitle a person to federal habeas corpus relief under the 8th Amendment’s proscription of cruel and unusual punishment. Constitutionally and procedurally intact convictions can remain undisturbed by the truth. In Herrera’s case, a capital case, the Court ruled it was not cruel and unusual to execute an innocent man. That kind of antiseptic, procedural logic is one striking example of how the banality of evil manifests itself within the criminal legal system.
On April 7, 2022, the United States Senate confirmed Ketanji Brown Jackson as the next Justice of the Supreme Court, marking a historic step in the nation’s tortuous history with race and gender. For the first time, a Black woman will serve on the US Supreme Court.
Regardless of political affiliation, it is impossible to ignore the significance of this moment. While Justice Brown Jackson’s judicial impact remains an open question, her personal impact, particularly on Black women, is undeniable: a resounding affirmation and inspiration. Here are a few reflections from members of the Boston College Law School community.
The following post was written by 1L, Logan Hagerty. Logan is an avid member of the BC Environmental Law Society (ELS) and serves as a 1L Representative. ELS is the umbrella organization for the BC Land & Environmental Law program. We lead research, service, professional training, social events, and more. As President of ELS, it has been a pleasure working with the new students like Logan who share my commitment to environmental law. -Fiona Maguire
I read dozens of faculty bios and course listings when applying to law school. I keyword-searched more variations of “environmental law” than I thought was possible: “Land,” “energy,” “property,” “environmental justice,” and “natural resources,” just to name a few. You guessed it – I came to law school with an interest in environmental law.
Professor Plater’s bio (and bow tie!) stood out on the BC Law website. I’d struck a gold mine. I explored the BC site some more, finding pictures from the Environmental Law Society (ELS) Barbeque and Winter Weekend events. I was hooked! (I also attended both of these events). Now I view the environmental law program as more than a “gold mine.” The program is an old-growth forest; it offers rich, deep-rooted connections, support, and development.
Writing an Impact post at the beginning of the semester is never easy. How to recapture the excitement for school after a month’s vacation and a return to campus in the middle of a Boston winter? 1L’s gearing up for round 2, 2L’s grinding away, and 3L’s wondering why we are still on campus. In addition, with the latest Covid surge, another round of “when will this all be over” doesn’t exactly help the cause.
But in this case the answer of what to write about seemed clear to me: my experiences in the Innocence Clinic working for my client. While I am not able to disclose many of the details about his case, I can say that my client had a clean record both before and after the arson he was wrongfully convicted of, and that our clinic recently filed a motion for new trial looking to overturn his conviction using newly discovered evidence that demonstrates his innocence nearly twenty years later.
All that remains of the Heart Mountain concentration camp, where the United States imprisoned over 14,000 Americans of Japanese descent between 1942 and 1945, is the camp’s hospital building. Over the course of a few months in 1942, the federal government transformed hundreds of acres in remote northwest Wyoming—near Yellowstone National Park—into the state’s third most populous city. The valley plain beneath Heart Mountain became one of ten “Relocation Centers,” the Orwellian name given to the World War II era camps in which over 100,000 people were imprisoned on the basis of their Japanese heritage. Back then, Heart Mountain was a bustling camp consisting of barracks, mess halls, toilet and laundry facilities, recreation spaces, workshops, schools, the hospital, a courthouse, administration buildings, nine guard towers, and a barbed-wire perimeter fence. This October, when I scanned the horizon for some sense of place or history, all I could make out was the original hospital building and snow-covered fields.
In February of 2019 I was a senior in college in my final semester. I was also an intern at NBC Sports Boston—an awesome opportunity that I really enjoyed. I’ll admit it—I’m a huge sports fan. Not just in the sense that I watch a lot of games, but in the sense that I have a framed, autographed photo of Patriots running back James White scoring the game winning touchdown in the greatest comeback in NFL history (Super Bowl LI, which I attended) mounted in my living room. This photo is next to David Ortiz’ #34 jersey, which is next to an autographed Tim Thomas hat, next to an autographed team photo of the world champion 2007-08 Boston Celtics.
Are you getting the picture?
So it goes without saying that I was beyond thrilled when I actually got to help cover Super Bowl LIII—the final championship of the Brady-Belichick era, a run of success so long it stretched back from when I was in preschool, to when I was getting ready to graduate from college. It was a fitting ending on a number of fronts.
But in the back of my mind, I knew trouble was on the horizon.
While attending University of Chicago in 2018, I had the good fortune to have a part-time job as a community outreach coordinator for the soon-to-be-released “RBG” documentary. On premiere night at the Chicago Gold Coast theater the Chicagoans I had come to know turned out in force. The gray-haired justice book group was followed by some little girls with their mothers. Film buffs, law students, elected officials, and a church group were all present and excited to learn more about this notorious intellectual giant. Everyone was moved by her story. The little girl who went in wearing an RBG costume came out standing a little taller in her black robe and jabot. This was the power of her transcendent appeal.
More recently, as a CNN Associate Producer covering the Supreme Court, I was assigned a retrospective story about Justice Ginsburg’s most impactful decisions during her long career. I wrote the story factually and objectively, with no fanfare, and placed it in reserve for what I hoped would be a very long time.
But she deserved fanfare.
Today I’m very pleased to be able to host a guest blog from the Hon. James V. Menno ‘86, who recently retired after more than two decades of service as an associate justice of the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court.
Despite the number of people sitting on the hard benches in this sunlit courtroom, there is a respectful silence. An ordinary person is sitting in the witness box. She has taken an oath to tell the truth. Her descriptive answers to her attorney’s questions begin to weave together a story. It is a deeply personal story that provides unique insight into her and the children of her fractured family. She tells this story to another ordinary person, me, who also happens to be the judge. We are separated by a bench, a black robe and the roles we play. But we are joined together as co-participants in the daily unfolding of the actual Rule of Law.
Her role is to honestly tell the difficult story that has led to this moment. Tomorrow, her husband will sit in the same chair and do the same. My role is to listen to them as unique individuals, determine which facts are true, and (utilizing the applicable law) make a decision that will allow them and their children to transition from one family to two single-parent families. Whew! What a daunting task this is for both of us, the storyteller and the listener.
American legal history and culture distinguishes itself both by its respect for the Constitution and its eagerness to heatedly debate its interpretation. There are those who believe in a “living Constitution,” constructed by the Framers to be flexible and changing with the mores and demands of the progressing society it serves. Others are “textualists,” prominent among them the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who believe that the Framers designed the Constitution to be a stable bedrock of fundamental law with specific avenues for amendment, to serve as a foundation upon which legislative action can build a legal edifice. They see the Constitution as concrete in what it says, and wish to leave anything it does not say to the legislative authority of the Congress and States, rather than the courts.
A shockwave disrupted the country on the afternoon of February 13, 2016, when we learned that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia had passed away unexpectedly at the age of 79. The fascinating political and legal ramifications of Justice Scalia’s sudden death are yet to unfold, but what is certain is that American law students have lost a brilliant and consequential legal instructor. Continue reading