Preventing Wrongful Convictions

Course number: Law 3980

Overview: Evidentiary, legal and human factors can fuel each other into a wrongful conviction in ways that were simply unknown prior to the advent of DNA testing.  This course examines the causes of wrongful convictions, how to avoid them, detection mechanisms and remedies that appear to be provided under international instruments.  Emphasis is placed on two critical factors:   the often invisible causes of wrongful convictions in the criminal justice system; and the steps that can be taken to avoid them.

Teaching method: Course format is seminar, with enrolment limited to 18 students.  Teaching method is mixed to ensure a strong learning experience:  some lectures, audio-visual materials to highlight key points, a few selected guest lecturers, much discussion around the table, and student presentations on assigned issues concerning wrongful convictions.  Engagement in the course is critically important:  if you will be conflicted with court commitments throughout the term, this is not the course for you.

Assessment: Evaluation of the student’s performance is multi-layered and multi-dimensional.  There are two overarching elements:   first, a research paper worth 60% of the final mark.  Second, oral and written engagement in the course worth 40%.  The latter consists of an oral presentation (20%), two written commentaries on weekly readings of the student’s choice (10%), and direct, in-class participation throughout the course (10%).

Course materials: No textbook is required for this course.  Virtually all assigned readings are on a website created by the lecturer.  Students at the U of M have access to this website at no cost.  This website will also act as a starting point for research on the paper, although students will be expected to go well beyond its parameters to develop a well thought-out analysis of the subject chosen by the student.

Instructor: David Ireland

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