Legal Innocence and Federal Habeas

Article — Volume 104, Issue 3

104 Va. L. Rev. 417
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Although it has long been thought that innocence should matter in federal habeas corpus proceedings, innocence scholarship has focused almost exclusively on claims of factual innocence—the kind of innocence that occurs when new evidence reveals that the defendant did not commit the offense for which he was convicted. The literature has largely overlooked cases where a defendant was convicted or sentenced under a statute that is unconstitutional, or a statute that does not apply to the defendant. The Supreme Court, however, has recently begun to recognize these cases as kinds of innocence and it has grounded its concern for them in innocence-related considerations. This Article highlights how the doctrine has started to treat these “legal innocence” cases as cases in which defendants are innocent, as well as the reasons why it has done so. As this Article explains, legal innocence is conceptually and inextricably linked with factual innocence; in both kinds of cases, the defendant was convicted or sentenced under a law she did not violate. These cases raise similar concerns and implicate many of the same features of our criminal law system. By recognizing the emerging category of legal innocence as a kind of innocence, this Article maps out how the existing federal habeas system can provide relief to legally innocent defendants.

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  Volume 104 / Issue 3  

The Damagings Clauses

By Maureen E. Brady
104 Va. L. Rev. 341

Legal Innocence and Federal Habeas

By Leah M. Litman
104 Va. L. Rev. 417

Mining for Meaning: An Examination of the Legality of Property Rights in Space Resources

By Amanda M. Leon
104 Va. L. Rev. 497

Is Powell Still Valid? The Supreme Court’s Changing Stance on Cruel and Unusual Punishment

By Maria Slater
104 Va. L. Rev. 547