On Innocence, Factual and Moral

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.

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A Year in Review of a Transfer Student

August:

The Friday before the start of classes, the school held a social event for new students at The Horse, a local pub. I was extremely nervous, to the point that I was sweating profusely. I went to the bathroom to cool myself down, and noticed a girl I thought I recognized doing the same thing. It was Meg Keown, the other transfer student who had come to BC Law with me. I had looked her up on social media the moment we were put on an email thread together.

From the moment we met in person in that bathroom of The Horse, Meg and I became instant best friends. We always joke that we’re so lucky we liked each other, because if not, we wouldn’t have someone to experience all these firsts with. It was nice to have someone in the same boat as me, who understood the particular anxiety and excitement that came with being a new student transferring from another law school.

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You Got Into Law School. Congrats! Now What?

If you’re reading this article, I am assuming you have been accepted into law school. In that case, congratulations! You will never have to deal with the LSAT again. Now, you just have to decide where you want to go.  Here are some tips that helped me.

  • If you’re waitlisted somewhere, decide what school you want to attend in the meantime with the mindset that you will not get off a waitlist. You want to pick a school that you can envision yourself at for the next three years. While that might seem hypocritical because I transferred, transferring is not always a guarantee because just like the preliminary law school admissions process, it is unpredictable with a variety of factors that are out of your control. I was very lucky that it worked out for me. You also do not want to have a negative attitude towards your law school–while you do not have to be head over heels in love with your school, you should not feel any regret or dread of attending.
  • Reach out to the admissions office of your law school and ask them to connect you with a law student(s) that graduated from your undergraduate institution. This helps you get an idea of how the transition will be, especially if you are attending a different university than you did for undergrad. I did this at my previous law school, and I gained not only helpful insights and advice, but also mentors and friends.
  • Talk to more than one student about their experience. Law schools are not one size fits all and everyone’s experience is different. You might talk to someone who will write love letters to their school on Valentine’s Day (which, if you have read my previous post, I am guilty of). However, talk to students who have different experiences to try to get a more well rounded perspective.
  • Visit the town/city where the school is located, if possible. You’re not only committing to a law school for three years, you’re also committing to the city, its weather, etc. You have to not only be happy with the school itself, but with your living environment. This may come as a shock, but there is life outside of law school. 
  • Visit the school. With COVID restrictions getting lifted all over, most schools are giving in-person tours again. Seeing the school in-person, especially while school is in session, makes all the difference than looking at pictures online. BC Law is welcoming in-person visitors and giving tours. I might even be your tour guide if you come.

No matter what your admissions outcome is, just know that by getting accepted to a law school, you already accomplished the hard part. Once school starts, you have to just believe in yourself and your future success and that you’re where you are for a reason. It will all work out.


Melissa Gaglia is a second-year student at BC Law. Contact her at gagliam@bc.edu.

Intellectual Humility: Could I Be Wrong?

“HA – I told you!” My friend shrieked smugly. I rolled my eyes, trying to conceal my annoyance. We had been bickering back and forth for a bit about something that happened a couple of years ago. She insisted that the events had gone a certain way, and I was equally certain that the story was something else. When we finally confirmed, I was irked to find that she was, in fact, right. Even though the subject matter itself was insignificant, I disliked hearing “I told you so.” I eventually forced myself to sheepishly say, “okay fine, you were right,” but I really did not want to. 

No one likes to be wrong, whether it be in our personal or professional lives. Personally, we attach ourselves to our ideas and convictions, so when these ideas are challenged, it can feel like an attack on one’s self. Professionally, taking the example of litigation, the whole notion of arguing a case is that our side is the “right” one, and our job is to zealously advocate for it. But what if admitting our own shortcomings and recognizing our own fallibility could make us both better attorneys and better people?

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Relationships and the Law

“Don’t let it go to your head.” 

These words were spoken to me by someone older and wiser than myself a week after I started law school. Like most people, the weeks before school starts, especially law school, and particularly 1L, are a very stressful time of worry and expectations.

But after just a week, I came to realize I actually really enjoyed BC Law, that law school isn’t actually that scary, and I began to share a lot about my new experiences with others. There’s an undeniable cache, swagger, and cultural fixation with the law and notions of prestige in popular culture. To some, like myself, it can become a bit noxious. To others though, it is addictive—all-consuming—and can change people, even those we regard highly and befriend, and in some cases come to love, for the worse.

Frequently in law school I’ve gotten a glimpse of something that is not quite part of the law, but more specifically part of the cost of being a member of its practice—its impact on personal relationships, particularly relationships with those who are themselves in the legal field. In pop culture, films like Legally Blonde and the wide array of television, blogs, and other mediums that provide commentary on the legal mind paint a picture of toxic stress and personalities, politics and pomposity, and a commitment at all costs to one’s career and climbing the rungs of the corporate and bureaucratic ladder.

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5 Ways to Stay Motivated in Law School

Returning to school after Spring Break is always an adjustment. You’ve relaxed, you’ve slept in, and, if you’re luckier than me, you’ve traveled to a tropical destination. Getting up for your 9 am lectures and spending late nights briefing cases can feel harder than ever, especially as the weather is starting to get warmer. I don’t know about you, but I thought it was much easier to hunker down and read when it was freezing cold and dark at 4 pm.

And yet, just as these factors are combining to make motivation for school drop to its lowest, we’re also approaching the home stretch of the semester when it’s the most crucial to keep motivation up.

If you need inspiration to keep going through these last weeks until summer, here are some tips.

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Studying Law as an International Student

One of the most interesting parts of my time at law school so far has been the opportunity to meet students from a wide variety of backgrounds. Some have come straight from completing their undergraduate degree while others have spent a significant amount of time in the workplace before starting at BC Law. From class discussions, it’s clear to me that everyone brings these experiences with them to law school and it’s fascinating to see the way in which people’s different perspectives inform how they intend to practise law. 

As someone who isn’t from the U.S. originally, I think a lot about the ways in which my experience of growing up under a different legal system influences how I think about the law and the United States judicial system. For one thing, my ability to follow along in my constitutional law class this semester has definitely been hampered by my not knowing some of the foundational knowledge that students in the U.S. pick up either through osmosis or high school civics. 

For this week’s blog post, I sat down with three international students at BC to find out a bit more about their own experiences of studying as international students and what led to them studying at a U.S. law school.

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A 1L’s Guide to Experiential Learning

I came to law school not exactly sure about the type of law I wanted to practice, so I was particularly interested in experiential learning opportunities. Sure, I could learn about different legal fields and see how I liked them in practice during my summer internships, but clinics and externships would give me even more chances to try out various specialties and hopefully find what I was most passionate about. Knowing that these options are only available to 2Ls and 3Ls, I came into my first year ready to just hit the books and keep those other plans in the back of my mind for the upcoming semesters.

But Boston College Law School had different plans. 

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BC, I Still Love You. 

Roses are red,
Violets are blue.
I am a transfer student,
But everyone forgets that I'm new.

Since it is Valentine’s Day, it is only fitting I declare my love for my valentine, BC Law.  It’s been 170 days since my return, and I have yet to regret my decision of transferring. Like any great love story, it has not been entirely smooth sailing. I’ve had my moments where I experienced imposter syndrome, have been stressed out studying for finals, and pulled all-nighters to ensure I submit assignments on time. I’ve also had my share of new friendships, intramural softball wins, dance parties, and moments where I was smiling so hard my face started to hurt.

In the middle of my first semester, I expressed some self-doubt I was dealing with to my Labor Law professor, Thomas Kohler. After being fully remote for my 1L year, I was already adjusting to BC Law life, and the in-person aspect was just another layer of adjustment. Professor Kohler assured me that I was admitted to BC for a reason and that reason was not because they were pitying me; it was because I am smart and capable. This equipped me with the academic confidence I was lacking in myself.   

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Thank You, Tom Brady

It was fitting that the first word in New England about the retirement of Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr. from the National Football League came Saturday during a blizzard. 

I remember the first Patriots game I ever watched was the 2001 AFC Championship Game against the Oakland Raiders, where Patriots kicker Adam Vinateri, following the controversial “tuck rule” play, made a field goal kick in heavy snow—the final act of the soon to be demolished Foxboro Stadium—which sent the Patriots on their way to their first Super Bowl title in franchise history, and launched the greatest dynasty and career in the history of professional sports.

Adam Schefter of ESPN posted on Twitter last week that the seven time Super Bowl champion, at 44 years old, was going to walk away from the game, which was soon met with doubt, as it appeared Brady’s camp attempted to throw cold water on the report, before Brady himself ultimately confirmed the announcement on Tuesday.

My Instagram feed filled with friends from Boston posting tributes, sharing childhood anecdotes, and admiring the career of #12. 

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