Copyright (c) 2003 William Mitchell Law Review
William Mitchell Law Review
JUSTICE IN A CHANGED WORLD: THE RACE EFFECT ON WRONGFUL CONVICTIONS
29 Wm. Mitchell L. Rev. 845
Arthur L. Rizer III+
On the front of its splendorous building the highest court in the land has written, "Equal Justice Under Law." 1 The statement begs the question: equal justice for whom? In 1863 President Lincoln tried to answer this question. In his famous speech delivered after the Battle of Gettysburg, he stated: "Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." 2 The United States has fallen short of this statement in its criminal justice system because all men are not treated equally in a court of law.
The 1960 publication of Harper Lee's classic novel, To Kill a Mocking Bird, followed by the motion picture in 1962, brought to the public's attention the issues of bias in the criminal justice system that resulted in wrongful convictions. 3 In reading this book, one must stop and contemplate how many innocent persons have been falsely convicted due to racial animus within the criminal justice system. Although the prosecution in this story is fictional, there is a dearth of actual, comparable prosecutions throughout this country. In 1986 more than one thousand people were proven to be wrongfully convicted, and several of those were executed. 4 Moreover, reliable estimates show that the number could exceed eight thousand every year. 5
This comment will address the issue of the race effect on wrongful convictions. Part II will discuss the effect of ...
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