Professor Daniel Medwed’s New Book Provides Groundbreaking Exposé On Why the Innocent Can’t Get Out of Prison

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09.20.22 — Professor Daniel Medwed has spent more than 20 years in the field of criminal justice, serving as a public defender, as cofounder of a law school clinic that investigated post-conviction innocence claims, and now as a professor at Northeastern University School of Law advocating for justice reform. He’s seen firsthand the deep-seated issues that plague the criminal process, namely how the system is complicit in putting innocent people behind bars. There are convictions that rest on dubious eyewitnesses. Possible police misconduct that goes uninvestigated. Subpar performance from overworked, even if well-meaning, defense attorneys. One would expect that wrongful convictions could be easily overturned by the courts, as long as evidence to prove a defendant’s innocence existed.

But in BARRED: Why the Innocent Can’t Get Out of Prison (Basic Books/Hachette Book Group, 2022), Medwed reveals how convoluted legal procedures — essentially technicalities —make exonerations nearly impossible. The rules surrounding litigation after conviction are extremely complex, with narrow guidelines on how much time a defendant has to submit notice of an appeal, which court to file in, and whether they will be allowed to present new evidence or to raise errors that occurred at the initial trial. Because of deferential attitudes toward lower courts, higher courts also tend to uphold convictions, even when there is compelling evidence of a miscarriage of justice.

One example in BARRED is the tragic story of Bobby Fennell, who spent 16 years behind bars for a murder he didn’t commit. When Medwed and his team at Brooklyn Law School’s Second Look Program re-investigated the case, they were fully convinced of Bobby’s innocence. The prosecution’s argument had rested on a single unreliable eyewitness who admitted to receiving a deal in exchange for his testimony. Even more shocking — another man ultimately confessed to being the sole perpetrator. Yet because of the stringent rules around the appeals process and introducing new evidence, Medwed’s team had no legal recourse for getting another trial. Bobby’s plight is unfortunately far from unique.

BARRED tells heartbreaking stories of people who have been wrongfully convicted to expose how technicalities are keeping innocent people behind bars. This is a powerful call to reform a system that has valued finality and efficiency over justice.

“People sometimes say that prisoners get out on ‘technicalities,’” says Medwed, a renowned innocence advocate. “That’s a misguided view. If anything, procedural technicalities are often what keep those who deserve freedom behind bars.” His previous books include Prosecution Complex: America’s Race to Convict and Its Impact on the Innocent (NYU Press, 2012) and Wrongful Convictions and the DNA Revolution: Twenty-Five Years of Freeing the Innocent (Cambridge University Press, 2017).

“A lucid and persuasive call for change.”Publishers Weekly 

“Medwed writes with passion and expertise… Informative and poignant… [An] important addition to the literature on America’s addiction to incarceration.”Kirkus Reviews 

“Eye-opening… Readers interested in criminal justice will find an elucidating look at the challenges and possibilities for the wrongfully convicted.”Booklist


BARRED Tour Schedule

September 21, 2022
Book Launch Event with U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins ’97, Grub Street/Porter Square Books, Boston Edition, in the Seaport, Boston, Massachusetts

September 27, 2022
Book Reading, Corner Bookstore, New York, New York

September 28, 2022
Book Event, Shearman & Sterling Alumni Event, New York, New York

September 29, 2022
Book Event with NE Innocence Project Executive Director Radha Natarajan, sponsored by the Prison Book Program, at Porter Square Books, Cambridge, Massachusetts

October 22, 2022
Book Reading, Chicago Humanities Festival, Chicago, Illinois

October 25, 2022
Book Talk (virtual), Deason Criminal Justice Reform Center, SMU Dedman School of Law, Dallas, Texas

November 16, 2022
Book Talk, Edward Sparer Public Interest Law Program, Brooklyn Law School, Brooklyn, New York

November 17, 2022
Book Talk, with Michael Meltsner, Cambridge Public Library, Cambridge, Massachusetts

BARRED In the Press

About Northeastern University School of Law

The nation’s leader in experiential legal education since 1968, Northeastern University School of Law offers the longest-running, most extensive experience-based legal education program in the country. Northeastern guarantees its students unparalleled practical legal work experiences through its signature Cooperative Legal Education Program. More than 1,000 employers worldwide in a wide range of legal, government, nonprofit and business organizations participate in the program. With a focus on social justice and innovation, Northeastern University School of Law blends theory and practice, providing students with a unique set of skills and experiences to successfully practice law.

For more information, contact d.feldman@northeastern.edu