The United States legal system can seem maze-like, so complex that people convicted of major crimes can slip through its fingers.
“But the reality that I learned over many years in the trenches,” says Daniel Medwed, Northeastern University distinguished professor of law and criminal justice, is that “technicalities are what keep people in prison.”
Medwed, who served as an associate appellate counsel in the criminal appeals bureau of the Legal Aid Society in New York City and is a founding member of the Innocence Network, says that these technicalities are used to entrap people even when they can reasonably be proven not guilty, whether through new evidence, revelations of judicial malfeasance, or further scholarly investigation.
The public seems to understand that people are sometimes arrested for crimes they didn’t commit, Medwed says, “But not as many people seem to understand why it is so hard to free those prisoners after you’ve uncovered evidence that they’re innocent. So the first objective is education.”
Medwed’s new book, “Barred: Why the Innocent Can’t Get Out of Prison,” provides examples of people that, he argues, scholars can reasonably prove are not guilty, but who remain (or remained for too long) behind bars.