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Cleansing Moments and Retrospective Justice

Russell, Margaret M
June 4, 2015

Source: (2003) Michigan Law Review. 101: 1225-1268.

In this essay, Margaret Russell begins with the assertion that the historical role of race in the legal process and criminal justice system bears significantly upon the interpretation and resolution of current doctrinal dilemmas in jurisprudence and criminal justice. This is seen, for example, in the emerging “innocence movementâ€? – the reexamination of prior convictions, especially in light of DNA research and evidence. It also may be seen in the drive to reopen 1960s civil rights era prosecutions to correct both individual injustices and broad community harms. Compare, for instance, racial murders from that period not prosecuted or not vigorously prosecuted at the time, such as the bombing deaths of four girls in a Birmingham, Alabama, church. Some have termed the opportunities to bring perpetrators to trial for cases long considered dormant as “cleansing moments.â€? Russell explores questions of injustice, justice, and community welfare in the context of these issues.


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